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Donald Trump ordered an end to Hong Kong’s special status with the U.S. and signed legislation that would sanction Chinese officials responsible for cracking down on political dissent in the city, drawing a rebuke from China and adding fresh uncertainty for businesses including banks in the financial hub.
“No administration has been tougher on China than this administration,” the U.S. president said Tuesday, announcing the two moves in the White House Rose Garden. Trump also said he had no plans to speak with President Xi Jinping, deviating from his pattern of criticizing Beijing while tempering it with warmth and respect for the Chinese leader.
Trump had threatened to take action ever since Chinese officials imposed the sweeping national security law on Hong Kong about two weeks ago. China’s implementation of the law, and the reaction of major trading partners who have criticized it, could have a substantial impact on a Hong Kong economy already battered by months of historic anti-government protests and coronavirus restrictions.
On Wednesday, China vowed to take strong countermeasures and sanction U.S. officials and entities over the Hong Kong law, without elaborating. It urged the U.S. to “correct its wrongdoings” and to stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs.
“If the U.S. continues such action, China will resolutely take countermeasures,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “To safeguard China’s legitimate interests, we will take necessary measures and impose sanctions on relevant individuals and entities from the U.S.”
Under the law, banks are granted a kind of year-long grace period to stop doing business with entities and individuals the State Department determines to be “primary offenders” when it comes to undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy. Neither Trump nor his administration specified which Chinese officials might be sanctioned.
After that period, the Treasury Department can impose a variety of penalties on those institutions, including barring top executives from entering the U.S. and restricting the ability to engage in U.S. dollar-denominated transactions, according to Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who co-sponsored the legislation.
“These measures, alongside Beijing’s own crackdown, place Hong Kong at the very front lines of the increasing tensions between the U.S. and China,” said Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong-based lawyer and author of “City on Fire: The Fight for Hong Kong.”
Equities in Hong Kong slipped on Wednesday morning, with the benchmark Hang Seng Index losing 0.5% to head for the lowest close since July 2. Chinese technology firms led the losses, along with Hong Kong property developers. Shares on the mainland fell for a second session.
Prominent pro-establishment Hong Kong lawmaker Regina Ip pushed back against Trump’s measures, saying they would “only end up diminishing U.S. influence” in the city.
“It will only drive more Hong Kong people to rely more and more on mainland China for support for our prosperity and stability,” Ip, a member of leader Carrie Lam’s advisory Executive Council, said in an interview with Bloomberg. “This will not really effect the foundations of Hong Kong’s success as an international financial center, because the financial measures will only be imposed on individuals and entities identified under the act — it’s not as sweeping as some have suggested.”
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