Economy May 25

China warns US of countermeasures over Hong Kong trade threats

National security advisor said it would be 'a tragedy for Hong Kongers and very bad for China' if Beijing violates its international agreement over the city, but Beijing says US should not interfere

by AFP
China warns US of countermeasures over Hong Kong trade threats
Police wearing gas masks get ready to fire teargas at protesters taking part in a pro-democracy rally against the National Security Legislation in Hong Kong on May 24, 2020. The city's pro-democracy camp has sharply criticised China's move to enact national security legislation in the semi-autonomous territory. The US also says it will destroy the 'One country, two systems' framework that promises the city freedoms not found on the mainland. Photo: Kwan Wong/NurPhoto via AFP

Beijing has warned the US that it will take "every necessary measure" to protect its interests after a top White House advisor warned that Washington might revoke Hong Kong's special trading privileges if China enacts a tough new security law.

China plans to impose legislation on the semi-autonomous city that bans treason, subversion and sedition, officials said in response to months of massive, often-violent pro-democracy protests in the financial hub last year.

US national security advisor Robert O'Brien warned on Sunday that the new law could cost the city the preferential trading status it enjoys with the United States, the world's largest economy.

But China's foreign ministry said on Monday that the US has "no right to criticise and interfere."

"What laws, how, and when Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) should legislate are entirely within the scope of China's sovereignty," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

"If the US insists on hurting China's interests, China will have to take every necessary measure to counter and oppose this," he added.

He said Beijing had already made "stern representations to the US."

Hong Kong residents enjoy rights – including freedom of speech – unseen on the mainland, and the city has its own legal system and trade status.

Many Hong Kongers fear the proposal could spell the end of the territory's treasured freedoms, and thousands protested on Sunday against the Chinese measure despite a ban on mass gatherings introduced to combat coronavirus.

'Violating international agreement'

O'Brien's remarks came amid soaring tensions between Washington and Beijing – and only a day after China's foreign minister Wang Yi warned that the two countries seemed poised "at the brink of a new Cold War."

O'Brien referred to Beijing's 1984 agreement to grant Hong Kong, a former British colony, substantial autonomy through 2047, telling CBS's "Face the Nation" that "it looks like they're violating that agreement."

"I can't see how Hong Kong remains an Asian financial center if the Chinese Communist Party goes through and implements its national security law and takes over Hong Kong," he said. "That'd be a tragedy for the people of Hong Kong and it would also be very bad for China."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday the proposed law, which China's rubber-stamp legislature is expected to act on quickly, would be a "death knell for the high degree of autonomy Beijing promised for Hong Kong."

He said that China's continued respect for Hong Kong's democratic institutions and civil liberties was "key to preserving its special status under US law."

Washington and Beijing have also jousted sharply over blame for the coronavirus pandemic, and over the role of the World Health Organisation.

A US law passed last year requires the Secretary of State to certify each year that Hong Kong remains largely autonomous; absent that, the territory risks losing trade privileges not enjoyed by mainland China.

Hong Kong was swept by massive and occasionally violent pro-democracy protests last year, and thousands gathered there on Sunday to protest the proposed law, facing off with police.

AFP