US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that his administration would respond strongly if China enacts newly proposed national security legislation that would limit opposition activity in Hong Kong. “If it happens we’ll address that issue very strongly,” Trump said to reporters as he departed the White House for Michigan, though he prefaced his remarks by saying that he did not know about the substance of the proposal. “I don’t know what it is, because nobody knows yet,” Trump said.
Source: Owen Churchill in Washington, DC and Stuart Lau, South China Morning Post
Trump says US would respond ‘very strongly’ if China enacts national security legislation limiting Hong Kong
The legislation, which would effectively bypass Hong Kong’s own legislative process, is expected to ban all seditious activities in the semi-autonomous city, theSouth China Morning Post earlier reported. A proposal on the legislation will be formally introduced in the National People’s Congress (NPC) on Friday, the first day of the legislature’s annual session.
NPC spokesman Zhang Yesui confirmed at a Beijing news conference on Thursday that the legislature would be considering a resolution regarding a decision on “establishing a sound legal system and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”.
That proposal’s likely passage – votes in the legislature rarely stray from the Communist Party line – would pave the way for the national security legislation itself to be voted upon as early as next month, when the NPC’s standing committee is expected to convene.
Outrage at Beijing’s proposal was palpable on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers of both parties last year rallied almost unanimously to swiftly pass legislation increasing US scrutiny concerning affairs in Hong Kong.
Signed into law in November, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act requires that the US State Department determine within six months of its enactment whether the city maintains a sufficient degree of autonomy to justify continued special trade status by Washington.
Representative Jim McGovern, chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said on Twitter that Beijing’s move to bypass Hong Kong’s legislative council struck “at the heart” of the “one country, two systems” framework.
Calling on the Trump administration to respond using authorities provided in the law, McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the US should “lead a global coalition to support the people of [Hong Kong]”.
Michael McCaul, the lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, urged Beijing “not to impose [additional] oppressive legislation disguised as ‘national security’ on Hong Kong”.
“Any law that further stifles the freedom of the people of Hong Kong would only further erode the foundations of One Country, Two Systems and will not be tolerated by the United States,” McCaul, a Texan, posted on Twitter.
Calling Chinese Communist Party officials “thugs”, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, one of the most vocal China hawks in Congress, also took to Twitter to call for consequences “for Beijing’s tyrannical actions against the people of Hong Kong”.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a question about whether the NPC legislation, if ultimately passed, would mean that Hong Kong no longer enjoyed sufficient autonomy to justify treatment different from any other Chinese city.
But the development is all but certain to be addressed, given Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement earlier this month that the report was being postponed to allow consideration of any Hong Kong-related policy initiatives announced during the NPC session, which had been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In Europe, current and former political figures joined in the global chorus of concern about the legislation’s ramifications for Hong Kong’s future, particularly its international standing.
Chris Patten, Britain’s last governor of the former colony, called Beijing’s proposal a “comprehensive assault” on Hong Kong’s autonomy, rule of law and fundamental freedoms.
“At best, the integrity of ‘one country, two systems’ hangs by a thread,” Pattern said through a spokesman. “Unless the Chinese Communist regime sees sense, this will be hugely damaging to Hong Kong’s international reputation and to the prosperity of a great city.”
Tom Tugendhat, chair of the British Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, cast doubt on Beijing’s intention to stick to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the bilateral treaty signed in 1984 that guarantees a “high degree of autonomy” for Hong Kong until at least 2047.
“Unilateral changes could undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and bring into question the rule of law that has underpinned the territory’s prosperity,” Tugendhat, who also heads the Conservative-led China Research Group, said.
“Britain, the US and others who are supporting the rules-based system that has allowed countries – including China – to prosper in relative peace over recent decades need to remind Beijing the world is watching.”
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