Donald Trump announced an end to the “special treatment” given to Hong Kong by the United States, as a consequence of Chinese efforts to interfere in the island’s autonomy.
The president also announced he had signed legislation slapping sanctions on China because of their treatment of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
For its part, China is warning that there will be a price to pay if sanctions are imposed on its companies and officials.
China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday Beijing will impose retaliatory sanctions against U.S. individuals and entities in response to the law targeting banks, though the statement released through state media did not reference the executive order.
“Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs and no foreign country has the right to interfere,” the ministry said.
Hong Kong’s special trading status has poured money into Beijing’s coffers and ending that special relationship will cost China dearly.
“Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China,” Trump said during a lengthy speech in the White House Rose Garden that quickly drifted away from that legislation to touch on a variety of campaign issues.
“No special privileges, no special economic treatment and no export of sensitive technologies. In addition to that, as you know, we are placing massive tariffs and have placed very large tariffs on China.”
The sanctions bill Trump signed bites into the Chinese financial industry.
The new law, which the Senate passed just before heading out of town for the Fourth of July recess, directs the Treasury Department to identify individuals and financial firms that enable the Chinese government to carry out the new security law. Under the bill, those entities would be subject to sanctions, including visa limitations on senior executives and restrictions on dollar transactions.
Of course, China will shrug off the sanctions without much trouble. But ending the special trade status of Hong Kong will hurt Beijing while calling attention to its gross violation of the treaty it signed with Great Britain in 1997 that guaranteed Hong Kong’s autonomy and right to have a separate legal system.
The new security law imposed by China on the island clearly wipes out Hong Kong’s separate legal system. Now, Hong Kong activists can be arrested and sent to China to stand trial. And almost anything related to the people’s freedoms is deemed a matter of “national security” and subject to the restrictions in the new law. Books, newspapers, demonstrations, the right to assemble — these will all be controlled eventually by China.
China has been taking advantage of the pandemic to flex its muscles. It has carved out a large section of the South China Sea and declared it sovereign territory. It has bullied its neighbors who dare stand against it. And it’s trying to push the U.S. out of all of east Asia.
It’s assertiveness and aggressiveness is worrying because of its increasing bellicosity toward Taiwan. It’s move against Hong Kong is only the beginning. The real drama will begin when they begin to threaten Taiwan directly.