On Sunday, hundreds of protesters walked on the streets of Hong Kong, waving the United States flag, and some wore logo hats and T-shirts featuring President Donald Trump. The protesters also put up a banner that showed Trump standing on a tank, with the American flag behind him.
US support to protesters
On November 27, President Trump signed a tough new US law authorising sanctions on officials from China and Hong Kong who were responsible for abuse of human rights during the continuing crackdown on the protests that have continued since June this year.
Under ‘The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act’, the State Department is obligated to carry out annual reviews of the special autonomous status it grants to Hong Kong with regard to trade.
The signing of the law signalled American support for the pro-democracy protesters. Trump had been initially non-committal on signing — saying both that he supported the activists on the streets of Hong Kong, and that President Xi Jinping is “a friend of mine”.
His hand was ultimately forced because the Bill had been passed by both the House and the Senate by veto-proof majorities.
Trump also signed into law a bill that banned the sale of crowd-control munitions like tear gas and rubber bullets to authorities in Hong Kong.
The anti-China protesters have said that the new American laws would give them more leverage over the authorities in both Beijing and Hong Kong, who would like to preserve the territory’s special trade status with the US.
“I hope it can act as a warning to Hong Kong and Beijing officials, pro-Beijing people and the police. I think if they know that what they do may lead to sanctions, then they will become restrained when dealing with protests. We just want our autonomy back. We are not their foe,” The New York Times quoted a 32-year-old food importer named Nelson Lam in one of its reports last week.
The Foreign Ministry in Beijing has reacted angrily to the new laws, saying they “seriously interfered with Hong Kong affairs, seriously interfered with China’s internal affairs, and seriously violated international law and basic norms of international relations”.
In a statement issued last week, the Chinese government warned that the consequences would “be borne by the United States”.
The government in Hong Kong too, expressed displeasure. It said the two measures were “unnecessary and unwarranted, and would harm the relations and common interests between Hong Kong and the US.”
On trade, a delicate time
The step by the US can potentially queer the pitch for bilateral trade talks between the two countries. The trade war is passing through a delicate phase, and both Beijing and Washington have so far attempted to steer clear of the unrest in Hong Kong as they progress slowly through their negotiations.
President Trump had said in October that the US and China had negotiated a “historic” Phase 1 trade agreement. However, no concrete results have yet been announced, and Trump has not said if he would be open to lifting tariffs on $360 billion worth of Chinese goods.
The Trump administration has until December 15 to take a call on whether to impose another round of tariffs on a wider basket of Chinese imports, including consumer products such as smartphones and laptops.
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