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China Demands Trump Veto Bill Seen as Supporting Hong Kong Protesters

November 21, 2019, 6:30 PM UTC
Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images

China on Thursday demanded President Donald Trump veto legislation aimed at supporting human rights in Hong Kong and renewed a threat to take “strong countermeasures” if the bills become law.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act undermined both China’s interests and those of the U.S. in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

“We urge the U.S. to grasp the situation, stop its wrongdoing before it’s too late, prevent this act from becoming law (and) immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs,” Geng said at a daily news briefing.

“If the U.S. continues to make the wrong moves, China will be taking strong countermeasures for sure,” Geng said.

However, Geng adopted a less fiery tone when asked about progress in the U.S.-China trade talks, reiterating the stance that reaching an agreement is in the best interests of everyone.

“We hope both could meet each other halfway,” Geng said.

Regarding the U.S. Hong Kong human rights bill, Foreign Minister Wang Yi joined in the criticism, telling visiting former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen the legislation constituted an act of interference in China’s internal affairs and ignored violent acts committed by protesters.

“This bill sends the wrong signal to those violent criminals and its substance seeks to throw Hong Kong into chaos or even to destroy Hong Kong outright,” Wang said.

Trump expected to sign the legislation

The human rights act mandates sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses and requires an annual review of the favorable trade status that Washington grants Hong Kong.

Another bill prohibits export to Hong Kong police of certain nonlethal munitions, including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannons, stun guns, and tasers.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the bills Wednesday, a day after the Senate passed them on voice votes. The bills now go to the White House for Trump’s signature, and the White House signaled that he would sign the measure.

Battling over “one country, two systems”

Hong Kong held on to its advantageous trading status with the U.S. upon its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997, in recognition of Beijing’s pledge to allow it to retain its own laws, independent judiciary, and civil and economic freedoms.

That independent status has come into question amid moves by Beijing to gradually strengthen its political control over the territory, helping spark months of increasingly violent protests.

This week, China’s legislature argued it had the sole right to interpret the validity of Hong Kong’s laws after the territory’s court struck down an order banning the wearing of masks at protests. Legal scholars described that as a power grab violating the governing framework known as “one country, two systems.”

Police action against protesters

With Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government refusing to enter into dialogue or make concessions, the territory’s police force has been given broad powers to quell the protests. That has brought numerous complaints of excessive use of force and the abuse of detainees, along with a near-complete lack of accountability for officers.

In a September report, Amnesty International documented numerous cases where protesters had to be hospitalized for treatment of injuries inflicted while being arrested.

“Time and again, police officers meted out violence prior to and during arrests, even when the individual had been restrained or detained. The use of force was therefore clearly excessive, violating international human rights law,” said Nicholas Bequelin, the group’s regional direct for East and South East Asia.

Police spokesmen deny using excessive force, even in cases where officers are videotaped kicking and beating protesters who have already been immobilized.

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