Beijing warned on Wednesday it would take countermeasures to stop the US “playing the Hong Kong card” to undermine China, as it condemned the House of Representatives for passing an act supporting Hong Kong’s anti-government protesters, pushing it closer to becoming law.
The Chinese government went on the offensive with fiery statements issued by the foreign ministry, national legislature, Beijing’s top office on Hong Kong policy and state media against the lower chamber of the US Congress for “interfering in China’s internal affairs” by passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.
If signed into law, it would assess annually whether Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China justified its special trade status with the United States, potentially sanction the city’s leaders, and allow peaceful protesters visas to the US even if they had been arrested.
“With regards to the incorrect decision by the US, China must take strong countermeasures to firmly safeguard its sovereignty, safety and developmental interests,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. “If the relevant bill is ultimately passed into law, not only will it harm Chinese interests but it will damage China-US relations and seriously damage the US’ own interests.”
The foreign ministry said that Hong Kong did not face “so-called human rights and democracy issues”, but that some in the US harboured “sinister intentions to destroy Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability and to contain China’s development”.
“The US House of Representatives ignores the facts and has reversed black and white, describing serious crimes such as arson, damaging shops and violent assaults as issues of human rights and democracy, exposing a naked double standard,” the spokesperson said.
The latest movement on the US act was expected to intensify tensions in the ongoing strategic rivalry between China and the US, and follows four months of increasingly violent clashes between protesters and police in Hong Kong, triggered by opposition to a now-shelved extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of criminal suspects to mainland China’s opaque legal system.
On Tuesday, the House also passed an act to restrict exports of crowd-control products such as tear gar to Hong Kong – where police have been accused of excessive force in handling demonstrators – and a resolution recognising the city’s relationship with the US, condemning Beijing’s “interference” in Hong Kong’s affairs and supporting its people’s right to protest.
The National People’s Congress issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon accusing the House of ignoring “radical forces and violent elements” in Hong Kong, including criminal acts with “characteristics of terrorism”, in the name of human rights and democracy.
Its statement urged the House to “immediately stop pushing forward Hong Kong-related laws” and instead work on long-term relations between China and the US.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office had earlier criticised the House for its “gross interference” in China’s internal affairs and what it described as playing the “Hong Kong card” to undermine China. It made specific references to a protester who allegedly slashed a police officer on the neck, destruction of subway facilities, and home-made explosives.
“It has exposed the political plot of the US House of Representatives and some politicians to use Hong Kong to contain China’s development,” the office’s spokesman Yang Guang said in a statement.
Although the Hong Kong protesters’ core demands include universal suffrage, accountability for police violence and amnesty for protesters, Beijing has portrayed the demonstrations as a separatist movement with backing from “foreign forces” such as the US.
The Hong Kong Democracy Act still needs to be passed by the Senate, the upper chamber, before US President Donald Trump decides whether to sign it into law.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the House she took issue with those who bowed to Beijing out of economic self-interest following the high-profile saga between China and US basketball over a member of staff’s tweet in support of Hong Kong protesters.
“To those who want to take the repressive government’s side in this discussion, I say to you: What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his soul?” she said.
Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said it was extremely regrettable that the US act had been passed by the House, after she delivered a policy address on Wednesday containing housing measures but no political solutions to the worst crisis Hong Kong has seen since it came under Chinese rule in 1997.
“This is a foreign parliament interfering with our domestic matters,” Lam said. “I don’t need a foreign parliament to tell us how human rights and the judicial system in Hong Kong are important to us.”
The mainland’s state-run news agency Xinhua joined in with sharply worded commentaries on the act, accusing the US of “hegemonic interference” that amounted to “American bullying” and would send the “wrong signal” to violent elements in the Hong Kong protest movement.
“The storm over Hong Kong’s extradition bill has evolved through the intervention of US and Western external forces into Hong Kong’s version of a ‘colour revolution’,” one piece said. “Hong Kong is being pushed into a dangerous abyss.”
Chinese analysts said that Beijing’s “countermeasures” may not go far beyond its incendiary rhetoric, but that there may be a slight impact on ongoing negotiations between Beijing and Washington to resolve their prolonged trade war.
Shi Yinhong, a prominent international affairs expert from Renmin University in Beijing, said that the passing of the bill would infuriate Beijing, which would “worsen the atmosphere for the China-US trade talks”.
“China will definitely enact countermeasures if the bill causes a negative impact to Hong Kong’s social stability, financial and political interests, and China’s national pride, but it is difficult to predict what those will be specifically – it is difficult for anyone to guess,” he said. “But the force of Chinese countermeasures is typically weaker compared to the US.”
Liu Weidong, a US affairs expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the bill itself was “not a very big issue” given that the US had passed similar legislation previously that Beijing said “interfered in China’s affairs”, but which drew only denunciations from the foreign ministry. He did not envisage the US act provoking sterner action from Beijing.
“I don’t think the bill will prompt Beijing to send military troops into Hong Kong, since Beijing still emphasises the ‘one country, two systems’ principle to allow the Hong Kong government itself to handle the crisis,” he said, referring to the principle under which Hong Kong was handed over from Britain to China in 1997 but retained a degree of autonomy.
“For the trade talks, I believe there will be limited impact, because the negotiations are held between the two countries while this bill comes from the US Congress.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- US House okays Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act as Beijing strongly condemns move
- US passing Hong Kong human rights and democracy act will only ‘punish the wrong people’: ex-Trump envoy Susan Thornton
- Beijing vows to retaliate after US’ Hong Kong human rights bill is approved by congressional committees
This article Beijing goes on attack, accusing US lawmakers of ‘sinister intention to destroy Hong Kong’ first appeared on South China Morning Post