China vows to retaliate over Trump move on Hong Kong

US president says Hong Kong stripped of special trading status in response to Chinese ‘aggression’

China has vowed to retaliate after the US stripped Hong Kong of its special trading status and authorised sanctions on banks and individuals who curb the city's autonomy.

Condemning the US move, China’s foreign ministry pledged on Wednesday to take countermeasures, saying Washington had violated international law and “maliciously smeared” its security legislation.

“To safeguard China’s legitimate interests, China will impose sanctions on relevant US personnel and entities,” the ministry said in a statement.

Citing China's move to impose a far-reaching national security law on Hong Kong, US president Donald Trump said on Tuesday he had signed an executive order that would end Hong Kong's preferential economic treatment and approved a law that authorises sanctions against banks, officials and police deemed to have infringed the city's autonomy.


“I signed legislation and an executive order to hold China accountable for its aggressive actions against the people of Hong Kong,” Mr Trump said. “Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China. No special privileges, no special economic treatment and no export of sensitive technologies.”

Criticising the recent clampdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, he said the city would suffer dire consequences as a result of Beijing’s actions.

“Their freedom has been taken away, their rights have been taken away,” he said. “And with it goes Hong Kong, in my opinion, because it will no longer be able to compete with free markets. A lot of people will be leaving Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong is one of many issues that have strained US-China relations in recent months, with tensions also high over China's early mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak, its oppression of the Muslim minority population in Xinjiang, growing military assertiveness in the South China Sea and an array of trade disputes.

When asked if he planned to soon talk to Chinese president Xi Jinping, Mr Trump said: “I have no plans to speak with him.”

Security law

In another blow to Hong Kong's international status, the New York Times said on Wednesday it will move some of its regional staff out of the city to Seoul in South Korea as concerns mount over the implications of the new security law.

With the city “facing a new era under tightened Chinese rule”, the newspaper’s management determined they needed an additional base of operations in the region, a report in the paper said.

The paper said that while reporters would remain in Hong Kong, the digital editing team would relocate to Seoul, adding that several of its journalistic staff had recently encountered hurdles that were commonplace in mainland China but were rarely an issue in Hong Kong.

The contentious new security law outlaws a range of activities that China broadly defines as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with penalties of up to life imprisonment. Its enactment has sent a chill through the former British colony that was rocked last year by months of pro-democracy protests and often violent clashes between activists and police.

Since the law was introduced protesters have been arrested under the new legislation for waving pro-democracy flags and chanting slogans, and books that were deemed anti-China in tone have been withdrawn from public libraries. This week officials warned that the 610,000 Hong Kongers who voted in election primaries over the weekend could be in breach of the new law for their “serious provocation”.

The Irish consulate in Hong Kong has updated its travel advice for the city to note that according to the new law people arrested may be transferred to mainland China for trial under certain circumstances.

“The full extent of this law and how it is applied is not yet clear, but charges under this legislation can be applied to activities, including statements made on social media, undertaken while outside of Hong Kong,” the consulate’s advisory said.

“Irish citizens are reminded that they have a right to request consular assistance if they are detained by local authorities,” the statement added.

Huawei row

Chinese state media has also foreshadowed “public and painful” retaliation against the UK over its ban of Huawei from its 5G networks.

Following Britain’s announcement that Huawei would be stripped out of the country’s phone networks by 2027, the state-run Global Times said in an editorial that China could not “remain passive”.

“It is necessary for China to retaliate against the UK, otherwise would we not be seen as easy to bully. Such retaliation should be public and painful for the UK,” the article said. Additional reporting: Guardian

Peter Goff

Peter Goff

Peter Goff, a contributor to The Irish Times, formerly reported from China