Trump signs bill supporting Hong Kong protesters

2 weeks ago
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Photo credit: SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

Despite his best efforts, U.S. President Donald Trump has not been able to ignore the Hong Kong protests as he desperately seeks a trade deal with China.

  • In June, Trump promised his Chinese counterpart, Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, that he would be quiet on Hong Kong as long as trade talks continued. The Financial Times and CNN both confirmed this.
  • Trump showed deference to Xi in a rambling interview on Fox & Friends two weeks ago, in which he said that “we have to stand with Hong Kong but I’m also standing with President Xi.” He also called Xi a “friend of mine” and “an incredible guy.”
  • Trump also claimed, absurdly, that Beijing had not ordered a military crackdown in Hong Kong “only because” of ongoing trade negotiations. (People who actually know what they’re talking about say Beijing knows a military crackdown is not in its best interest.)

But last week, Trump’s hand was forced by the U.S. Congress, which passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 (HKHRDA) unanimously in the Senate, and nearly unanimously in the House of Representatives. Trump signed the veto-proof bill into law on November 27, and also signed a second measure that “bars the sale of tear gas and rubber bullets to the Hong Kong police,” according to CNBC.

The HKHRDA “orders an annual review to check if Hong Kong has enough autonomy to justify special trading status with the U.S.,” among other provisions, according to the BBC.

China fumed at the news, and issued several harsh statements and retaliatory actions:

  • The Foreign Ministry blasted the law as a “stark hegemonic practice, and…a severe interference in Hong Kong affairs, which are China’s internal affairs.”
  • China banned U.S. military vessels from visiting Hong Kong, and the Foreign Ministry stated, “As for how long the suspension will last, it depends on how the U.S. acts.”
  • Five American NGOs were sanctioned by China: The National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House. The Foreign Ministry claimed, without citing evidence, that they are “much to blame for the chaos in Hong Kong.”

Catch up on the context for the protests in Hong Kong with our explainer: What do the Hong Kong protesters want?

Look ahead at what’s next in the city’s politics: How Hong Kong’s pan-democrats can capitalize on their election wins.

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