President Donald Trump announced the three-stage approach called "downward trajectory" to revive the United States (US) economy as the country continues to fight the COVID-19 - Photo by the White House Office

JAKARTA (TheInsiderStories) – United States (US) President Donald Trump signed into law a bill to impose sanctions on Chinese officials, businesses, and banks that help China restrict Hong Kong’ autonomy on Tuesday (07/14), a move that is likely to worsen already-strained diplomatic ties and prompt retaliation from Beijing.

“This law gives my administration powerful new tools to hold responsible the individuals and the entities involved in extinguishing Hong Kong’ freedom,” Trump said during the beginning of his remarks at the White House.

Trump also announced that he had signed an executive order ending US preferential treatment of Hong Kong has enjoyed for years. It follows up on his announcement in May that he would take steps to revoke the former colony’s status as a customs and travel territory separate from the rest of China.

The move comes weeks after China circumvented the Hong Kong legislature and introduced a harsh anti-subversion law aimed at stamping out the pro-democracy movement in the former British colony. Trump said Hong Kong would lose its position as a competitive financial hub because of the crackdown.

“Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China, no special privileges, no special economic treatment, and no export of sensitive technologies,” the president told reporters.

While the Trump administration last week placed sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights abuses against Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, it has not yet imposed any penalties on Chinese Communist party cadres involved in policy surrounding Hong Kong.

In a statement, Van Hollen and Pat Toomey, a Republican senator who co-sponsored the law, said it would “impose mandatory secondary sanctions on banks that do business with the entities in violation of the Basic Law” — a reference to the mini-constitution introduced in Hong Kong after its return to China.

“Now that the president has signed our Hong Kong Autonomy Act into law, he must impose the sanctions included in our bill,” Mr Van Hollen added. “That is the only way to ensure that those involved in the crackdown on Hong Kong will feel the full consequences of their actions.”

Tensions between the world’ two largest economies have hit their lowest levels in decades as Beijing and Washington fight over a wide range of issues, including trade, human rights, espionage and the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump has repeatedly slammed China over its lack of transparency about the virus. Last week, he indicated that the chances of negotiating a phase two trade deal with China were slim because of the pandemic, telling reporters that the US relationship with China had been “severely damaged.”

The US has taken a harder stance on China in recent months to punish Beijing for its actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the northwestern province where more than one million Uighurs have been detained in re-education camps. The White House also took a tougher stance on disputes in the South China Sea, which the US considers international waters but China claims much of it as its own territory.

China on Monday retaliated against the US measures by imposing its own sanctions on a state department official and three lawmakers, including Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, two hawkish Republican senators.

Trump had previously said he would revoke the preferential treatment Hong Kong enjoyed under the “one country, two systems” model that underpinned its autonomy after the UK handed the territory back to China in 1997. The White House last month said China’ new Hong Kong security law meant the territory was no longer autonomous and therefore no longer qualified for preferential treatment from the US.

Trump also appeared to welcome the decision by Boris Johnson, British prime minister, to ban Huawei from its 5G telecoms network, in a reversal that came after months of intense pressure from Washington. That was up in the air for a long time, but they have decided, Trump said about the British decision.

Written by Lexy Nantu, Email: lexynantu@theinsiderstories.com