by Shaun Tandon with Philippe Rater at the United Nations

President Donald Trump said Friday he would strip several of Hong Kong’s special privileges with the United States and bar some Chinese students from US universities in anger over Beijing’s bid to exert control in the financial hub.

Donald Trump. Photo: White House.

In a day of concerted action, the United States and Britain also raised alarm at the UN Security Council over a controversial new law for Hong Kong, angering Beijing which said that the discussion had no place at the world body.

In an announcement at the White House that Trump had teased for a day, the US president attacked China over its treatment of the former British colony, saying it was “diminishing the city’s long-standing and proud status.”

“This is a tragedy for the people of Hong Kong, the people of China and indeed the people of the world,” Trump said.

Trump also said he was terminating the US relationship with the World Health Organization, which he has accused of pro-China bias in its management of the coronavirus crisis.

But Trump was light on specifics and notably avoided any personal criticism of President Xi Jinping, with whom he has boasted of having a friendship even as the two powers feud over a rising range of issues.

‘One Country, One System’: Donald Trump on Hong Kong – click to view in full.

Americans are entitled to fairness and transparency. Several of the most significant actions we’re taking pertain to deeply troubling situations unfolding in Hong Kong. This week, China unilaterally impose control over Hong Kong security. This was a plain violation of Beijing’s treaty obligations with the United Kingdom in the Declaration of 1984 and explicit provisions of Hong Kong’s basic law. It has 27 years to go. The Chinese government’s move against Hong Kong is the latest in a series of measures that are diminishing the city’s longstanding and very proud status. This is a tragedy for the people of Hong Kong, the people of China, and indeed the people of the world.

China claims it is protecting national security, but the truth is that Hong Kong was secure and prosperous as a free society. Beijing’s decision reverses all of that. It extends the reach of China’s invasive state security apparatus into what was formerly a bastion of Liberty. China’s latest incursion, along with other recent developments that degraded the territory’s freedoms, makes clear that Hong Kong is no longer sufficiently autonomous to warrant the special treatment that we have afforded the territory since the handover.

China has replaced its promise formula of one country, two systems, with one country, one system. Therefore, I am directing my administration to begin the process of eliminating policy exemptions that give Hong Kong different and special treatment. My announcement today will affect the full range of agreements we have with Hong Kong, from our extradition treaty to our export controls on dual use technologies and more, with few exceptions. We will be revising the state department’s travel advisory for Hong Kong to reflect the increased danger of surveillance and punishment by the Chinese state security apparatus.

We will take action to revoke Hong Kong’s preferential treatment as a separate customs and travel territory from the rest of China. The United States will also take necessary steps to sanction PRC and Hong Kong officials directly or indirectly involved in eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy and just, if you take a look, smothering, absolutely smothering Hong Kong’s freedom. Our actions will be strong, our actions will be meaningful.

More than two decades ago on a rainy night in 1997, British soldiers lowered the Union flag and Chinese soldiers raised the Chinese flag in Hong Kong. The people of Hong Kong felt simultaneously proud of their Chinese heritage and their unique Hong Kong identity. The people of Hong Kong hoped that in the years and decades to come, China would increasingly come to resemble it’s most radiant and dynamic city. The rest of the world was electrified by a sense of optimism that Hong Kong was a glimpse into China’s future, not that Hong Kong would grow into a reflection of China’s past. In every decision, I will continue to proudly defend and protect the workers, families, and citizens of the United States of America. Thank you very much. Thank you.

“I am directing my administration to begin the process of eliminating policy that gives Hong Kong different and special treatment,” Trump said.

“This will affect the full range of agreements, from our extradition treaty to our export controls on dual-use technologies and more, with few exceptions,” he said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday told Congress that the Trump administration would no longer consider Hong Kong to be separate under US law, but it was up to Trump to spell out the consequences.

China this week pressed ahead on a law that would ban subversion and other perceived offenses against Chinese rule in Hong Kong, which was rocked by months of massive pro-democracy protests last year.

US restricts students

In one move that could have far-reaching consequences, Trump said he would issue a proclamation to block the entry into the United States of some Chinese graduate students “who we have identified as potential security risks.”

“For years, the government of China has conducted elicit espionage to steal our industrial secrets, of which there are many,” Trump said.

Pompeo earlier said that the measure was not aimed at all Chinese students but rather the students with links to the communist state.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

The move will likely draw criticism not only from China but from universities, which rely increasingly on tuition from foreign students and have already been hit hard by the COVID-19 shutdown.

China has been the top source of foreign students to the United States for the past decade with nearly 370,000 Chinese at US universities, including at the undergraduate level, in the 2018/2019 academic year, according to a trade group.

Beijing earlier retaliated by expelling US journalists after the United States took its own measure to curb Chinese staff in the country from its state-run media.

Critics say Trump has been eager to fan anger at China over COVID-19 to deflect attention from his own handling of the pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people in the United States, the highest death toll of any country.

Clash at UN

The United States and Britain earlier in the day raised the topic of Hong Kong at the Security Council, where China wields a veto — making any formal session, let alone action concerning the financial hub, impossible.

The 1997 Handover ceremony. File Photo: GovHK.

But the United States and Britain said the city’s autonomy, guaranteed by Beijing in a handover agreement that was registered at the United Nations, was of “legitimate international concern” and raised it in an informal, closed-door videoconference where China cannot block the agenda.

“The United States is resolute, and calls upon all UN members states to join us in demanding that the PRC immediately reverse course and honor its international legal commitments to this institution and to the Hong Kong people,” said US Ambassador Kelly Craft, referring to the People’s Republic of China.   

China denounced the move as interference, saying that the Hong Kong law did not fall under the mandate of the Council to maintain international security and peace.

China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, urged the United States and Britain “to immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs.”

“Any attempt to use Hong Kong to interfere in China’s internal matters is doomed to fail,” warned a statement from China’s UN mission.

“There was no consensus, no formal discussion in the Security Council, and the US and the UK’s move came to nothing,” it said.

Britain has separately promised to improve the rights of British National (Overseas) passport holders — a status offered to many Hong Kong residents — if China moves ahead on the security law.

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