US’ Hong Kong democracy act slanders China to a level close to madness, Foreign Minister Wang Yi says

Owen Churchill

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has described the passage through Congress of US legislation targeting China as “madness” that will damage the countries’ relationship.

In a meeting with former US secretary of defence William Cohen in Beijing on Thursday, Wang said that such legislation had shaken the mutual trust between the two nations.

“Right now, the China-US relationship has reached a critical crossroads,” Wang said. “But we regret to see that some politicians in the United States are now smearing, attacking, slandering China to a level close to madness.”

The US Congress had repeatedly enacted pieces of legislation to interfere in China’s internal affairs, violating the basic norms of international relations, Wang said.

“These practices have seriously poisoned the atmosphere of Sino-US relations and have impacted the mutual trust we have built over the years,” he said.

The remarks came after the US House of Representatives on Wednesday approved the Senate’s version of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act – which would increase Washington’s scrutiny of Hong Kong’s autonomy – sending it to the White House for US President Donald Trump’s consideration.

Wang mentioned the act, and said its passage sent a “wrong signal to the violent criminals in Hong Kong” and would cause damage to the city.

Aside from the democracy act, there are dozens of pending US bills that are aimed at countering China on multiple fronts.

US consul general Hanscom Smith was summoned over his country’s Hong Kong democracy act. Photo: Facebook

Meanwhile, China summoned the United States’ top envoy to Hong Kong to lodge complaints over the democracy act, Beijing’s foreign ministry said on Thursday.

Xie Feng, the foreign ministry commissioner to Hong Kong – China’s top diplomat in the city – summoned US consul general Hanscom Smith on Wednesday to argue that American lawmakers’ approval of the act was an affront to the “will of the international community” and a “violation of China’s internal affairs”, Xie’s office said in a statement.

US passing Hong Kong bill will ‘punish the wrong people’: ex-Trump envoy

The bill – which would pave the way for sanctions against individuals deemed responsible for the undermining of Hong Kong’s autonomy from Beijing – sailed through the Senate, Congress’ upper chamber, on Tuesday with no objection.

In a sign of the broad cross-party support behind the legislation, the House of Representatives voted 417-1 on Wednesday to approve a version of the bill reconciled from the versions already passed by the two chambers.

Smith, who was appointed to his role in Hong Kong in July, weeks after anti-government protests in the city began, was told that Beijing would take “resolute countermeasures” if the bill became law and that the US “would have to bear any possible consequences”.

Beijing has given no indication of what form such retaliation would take.

Xie said Beijing continued to back Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, and would continue to support the Hong Kong police “in strictly enforcing the law, and the Hong Kong judiciary in holding the violent offenders accountable in accordance with the law”.

The summoning of the US diplomat was the second such action taken by the Chinese government this week, after Washington’s top official for political affairs in Beijing, William Klein, was summoned in the Chinese capital over the bill’s passage through the Senate on Tuesday.

After the subsequent vote in the House to send the bill to the Oval Office, the Hong Kong government said on Thursday morning that the legislation “sent the wrong message to violent protesters and would not help to lower the temperature of the situation in Hong Kong”.

The Hong Kong government called on the US government to prevent the legislation becoming law, and decried what it called Washington’s efforts to “interfere in Hong Kong’s internal affairs”.

Beijing vows to retaliate after US’ Hong Kong democracy bill moves ahead

After the summoning of the diplomats, a US State Department spokesman said the US government “[continued] to urge Beijing to honour the commitments it made in the Sino-British Joint Declaration”, referring to the 1984 agreement on Hong Kong’s handover to China.

Both Beijing and Hong Kong have characterised the US legislation as a violation of Chinese sovereignty, even though the bill only dictates US policy towards Hong Kong and claims no authority over how either the mainland or Hong Kong government chooses to govern.

Following the act’s successful passage through both chambers of Congress, Trump is now obliged to approve or disapprove it within 10 days. A presidential veto could be overruled by a two-thirds majority of lawmakers – all but certain to be achievable, given the overwhelming support for the bill.

A former White House official under Trump said this week that Trump would be “crucified” if he chose not to sign the bill into law, and said they expected the president to opt for a closed-door signing away from the cameras, to try to keep attention to a minimum.

Trump, whose administration is locked in talks with Beijing aimed at resolving a 16-month trade war, had called on his allies in the Senate to stall the legislation’s progression through Congress, the South China Morning Post previously reported.

Additional reporting by Finbarr Bermingham and Minnie Chan

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