President Donald Trump issued an executive order Tuesday ending Hong Kong’s preferential trade treatment and signed a bill that would sanction individuals and banks who abet the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy, in the latest U.S. response to a harsh new security law Beijing imposed on the city.
The Hong Kong Autonomy Act provides for “sanctions on foreign persons, entities, and financial institutions that contribute to China's actions to remove autonomy from Hong Kong,” the White House said in a statement.
"Today I signed legislation, and an executive order to hold China accountable for its aggressive actions against the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said.
“Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China,” Trump said in a news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House.
“No special privileges, no special economic treatment, and no export of sensitive technologies,” he said.
Trump, who faced a Tuesday deadline to sign or veto the bill, was speaking two weeks after Beijing imposed a national security law that that threatens anyone criticizing Chinese or Hong Kong authorities and provides for a Chinese security police presence in the city.
Beijing’s ruling Chinese Communist Party imposed the national security law on Hong Kong on June 30, bypassing the city’s legislature with provisions that law punish what Beijing broadly defines as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
Critics says China’s moves undermine the freedoms of speech and association Hong Kongers promised for 50 years following the handover of the former British colony to Chinese rule in 1997.
“Their freedom has been taken away,” Trump said, referring to the people of Hong Kong. “Their rights have been taken away and with it goes Hong Kong, in my opinion, because it will no longer be able to compete with free markets.”
Trump did not say when the new executive order’s provisions would go into effect. Last month Washington The United States halted defense exports and moved to restrict the Chinese territory's access to high-technology products as it became clear that China would enact the security legislation.
The act requires “mandatory sanctions” against any foreign individual for “materially contributing” to the violation of China’s commitments to respect the autonomy of Hong Kong under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
U.S. Senator Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in statement that Trump's order "means that businesses in Hong Kong will no longer enjoy tariff-free trade and foreign investment, the U.S. dollar will no longer be freely exchanged with the Hong Kong dollar, the United States will suspend relevant agreements with Hong Kong, and U.S. citizens will not be able to visit Hong Kong visa-free."
“The executive order the president signed today means Hong Kong will now be treated like, and subject to the restrictions of, any other city in the People’s Republic of China. It is unfortunate, but necessary, for the president to use these measures in response to the alarming actions taken by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), especially the imposition of the national security law," Risch said.
After imposing the security law, China moved swiftly to solidify its new powers of control in Hong Kong, setting up an Office for Safeguarding National Security headed by a hard-line director that will be used by agents of China's feared state security police who have been allowed to operate in the city to enforce the new law.
Officers enforcing the law are empowered to search homes and businesses without a warrant, and to issue takedown notices to online service providers for any content deemed to be in breach of the new law, which bans anything that may "cause misgivings among the people of Hong Kong" about their leaders.
Journalists in Hong Kong have warned that the media will become a direct target of police enforcing the national security law, with any reports or commentary that oppose the authorities likely to be subject to takedown orders.
On Tuesday spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO) under China's cabinet, the State Council, accused pro-democracy figures of trying to foment a "color revolution" in the city after they help weekend primary elections ahead of a vote later this year.
The spokesman said it is illegal for anyone to organize unofficial elections in Hong Kong, calling for those found responsible to be "severely punished."
Washington’s ties with Beijing have been strained over trade imbalances, the coronavirus pandemic, China's military actions in the South China Sea, and its confinement of nearly two million Uyghur Muslims in internment camps.