President Donald Trump has said he would strip several of Hong Kong’s special privileges with the United States and bar some Chinese students from US universities in anger over Beijing’s bid to exert control in the financial hub.
The United States and Britain also raised alarm at the UN Security Council over a controversial new security law for Hong Kong, infuriating Beijing which said the issue had no place at the world body.
In a White House appearance that Trump had teased for a day, the US president attacked China over its treatment of the former British colony, saying it was “diminishing the city’s
longstanding and proud status.”
“This is a tragedy for the people of Hong Kong, the people of China and indeed the people of the world,” Trump said.
Trump also said he was terminating the US relationship with the World Health Organisation, which he has accused of pro-China bias in its management of the coronavirus crisis.
But Trump was light on specifics and notably avoided personal criticism of President Xi Jinping, with whom he has boasted of having a friendship even as the two powers feud over an increasing range of issues.
“I am directing my administration to begin the process of eliminating policy that gives Hong Kong different and special treatment,” Trump said.
“This will affect the full range of agreements, from our extradition treaty to our export controls on dual-use technologies and more, with few exceptions,” he said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday informed Congress that the Trump administration would no longer consider Hong Kong to be separate under US law, but it was up to Trump to spell out the consequences.
China this week pressed ahead on a law that would ban subversion and other perceived offenses against its rule in Hong Kong, which was rocked by months of massive pro-
democracy protests last year.
In a move that could have long-reaching consequences, Trump issued an order to ban graduate students from US universities who are connected to China’s military.
“For years, the government of China has conducted illicit espionage to steal our industrial secrets, of which there are many,” Trump said.
Hawkish Republicans have been clamoring to kick out Chinese students enrolled in sensitive fields. The FBI in February said it was investigating 1,000 cases of Chinese economic espionage and technological theft.
But any move to deter students is unwelcome for US universities, which rely increasingly on tuition from foreigners and have already been hit hard by the Covid-19 shutdown.
China has been the top source of foreign students to the United States for the past decade with nearly 370,000 Chinese at US universities, although Trump’s order will not directly affect undergraduates.
Critics say Trump has been eager to fan outrage about China to deflect attention from his own handling of the pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people in the United States, the highest death toll of any country.
Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, called Trump’s announcement
Eliot Engel, a Democrat who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, noted that Trump treaded lightly on Hong Kong during last year’s protests as he sought a trade deal with Xi.
“Now, the president wants to shift the blame for his failures onto China, so he’s doing the right thing for the wrong reason,” Engel said.
Trump’s order could also trigger retaliation. China in March expelled US journalists after the Trump administration tightened visa rules for staff at Chinese state media.
“Sanctions are not always unilateral and our country (China) has said that we will roll out countermeasures,” Hong Kong’s security chief John Lee said yesterday.
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