Trump angers China by signing bill supporting HK protesters
Washington/Beijing: US President Donald Trump has signed a law supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, drawing a furious reaction from China which on Thursday warned of "firm countermeasures".
The legislation was approved unanimously by the US Senate and by all but one lawmaker in the House of Representatives last week. Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 into law on Wednesday.
The law would require the State Department to certify once a year that Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous to retain its special US trading consideration a status that helps its economy.
It also threatens sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong, escalating tensions between China and the US.
Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous territory which operates under the 'one country, two systems' principle a structure that grants the city's citizens some degree of financial and legal independence from the mainland.
The city has been shaken by massive, sometimes violent, protests initially organised to oppose a now-suspended bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. These protests have now turned into a wider movement for democratic reforms.
Trump in a statement said, "I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi (Jinping), China, and the people of Hong Kong."
"They are being enacted in the hope that leaders and representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all," Trump said.
Reacting to Trump's move, the Chinese Foreign Ministry in a statement said: "This is a severe interference in Hong Kong's affairs, which are China's internal affairs".
"It is also in serious violation of international law and basic norms governing international relations. The Chinese government and people firmly oppose such stark hegemonic acts," the statement said.
"The nature of this is extremely abominable, and harbours absolutely sinister intentions," it said.
The legislation came at a time when China and the US have reached an advanced stage of negotiations to sign phase one agreement to end a trade war between the world's two largest economies.
"We urge the US not to continue going down the wrong path, or China will take countermeasures, and the US must bear all consequences," the Chinese statement said.
Until 1997, Hong Kong was ruled by Britain as a colony but then returned to China.
Under the "one country, two systems" arrangement, it has more autonomy than the mainland. It has its own judiciary and a separate legal system from mainland China.
"We are determined in implementing the 'one country, two systems' principle and safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests." the Chinese statement said.