President Donald Trump signed a bill and executive order Tuesday that ends the special treatment of Hong Kong and sanctions Chinese officials. This comes after Beijing passed a national security law that many U.S. officials say amounts to an authoritarian takeover of Hong Kong.
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"Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China. No special privileges, no special economic treatment, and no export of sensitive technologies," Trump said in the White House Rose Garden. "In addition to that, as you know, we're placing massive tariffs and have placed very large tariffs on China."
The Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which passed unanimously through Congress earlier this month, will allow the Trump administration to slap sanctions on “foreign individuals and entities that materially contribute to China's failure to preserve Hong Kong's autonomy.”
The relationship between mainland China and Hong Kong has existed under a “One country, two systems” arrangement since the British handed control of the island back to Beijing in 1997.
The United States has given special treatment to Hong Kong since then, but that preferential treatment has always depended on Beijing abiding by this system.
American officials contend that the national security law passed by China last month essentially ends Hong Kong’s autonomy.
“The Chinese Communist Party’s destruction of free Hong Kong continues,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week. ”With the ink barely dry on the repressive National Security Law, local authorities – in an Orwellian move – have now established a central government national security office, started removing books critical of the CCP from library shelves, banned political slogans, and are now requiring schools to enforce censorship."
Hong Kong has had an extremely open and free economy for decades, which has led to it to being a financial capital of the world. It was ranked number one on the Heritage Foundation’s “Index of Economic Freedom for 25 years before being passed by Singapore this year. That economic freedom could change now that Beijing has more control over Hong Kong.
“Their freedom has been taken away. 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 said Tuesday.
The escalating tensions between the U.S. and China have put the trade deal signed earlier this year in jeopardy. Trump said Tuesday he is not interested in talking to China right now.
Trump also took the opportunity to criticize his opponent in the election later this year, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
"In contrast, Joe Biden's entire career has been a gift to the Chinese Communist Party and to the calamity of errors that they've made," Trump said. "They made so many errors and it's been devastating for the American worker. China has taken out hundreds of billions of dollars a year from our country and we rebuilt China. I give them all the credit in the world. I don't give the credit for the people that used to stand here because they allowed this to happen."
Meanwhile, the Biden campaign is trying to portray Trump as someone who talks tough on China but fails to follow through.
“Donald Trump has sold every single one of us out to the Chinese government, and cemented himself as the most devastatingly weak, two-faced president in American history when it comes to China," a Biden campaign spokesman told Vox last month.