Beijing (dpa) - Despite the protest from Beijing, US President Donald Trump has signed two almost unanimously adopted laws of the US Congress in support of the democracy movement in Hong Kong. China is outraged and threatens countermeasures.
What is the law about?
Hong Kong's "Human Rights and Democracy Ordinance" threatens economic sanctions. For example, the Chinese special administrative region could be deprived of the preferential treatment it has enjoyed so far in US trade policy towards China. For example, Hong Kong is currently exempt from the punitive tariffs imposed by Trump on imports from China as part of its trade war.
A separate law prohibits the supply of tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and other equipment for use against protesters. The Hong Kong police forces used to have an excellent reputation in Asia, which they lost with their increasingly violent and excessive actions against the demonstrators. An independent investigation of police brutality is one of the main demands of the demonstrators.
Are immediate and concrete punitive measures planned?
Targeted economic sanctions and travel restrictions are planned for Chinese officials charged with serious human rights violations in Hong Kong. It could, for example, hit those responsible for abducting five Hong Kong booksellers in 2015 who had sold politically sensitive books and suddenly landed in China.
Should not Hong Kong be affected by the laws?
There is no doubt that the sanctions would affect the seven million Hong Kong residents. But the idea behind it is not to let it go that far by pushing up the price of China. Thus, the country is to be deterred from wanting to repeal the special status guaranteed in 1997 on the return of the British crown colony to China. It is a warning against altering the status quo, whether through an intervention by the People's Liberation Army against the protest movement or through the creeping loss of special liberties, so that Hong Kong does not end up like any other city in the People's Republic.
How should this be pursued?
The US is now taking a close look at Hong Kong. The State Department in Washington will each year be required to produce a report for the Congress every year and certify that Hong Kong remains autonomous enough to receive special treatment. A special focus is placed on human rights.
Will the protest movement be supported by the projects?
The laws are a strong sign of support for the pro-democracy forces, who should now be encouraged to give more weight to their demands. Some 100,000 had demonstrated in Hong Kong in October to call on Congress to enforce the plans.
Will tensions with China increase?
China reacted indignantly to the laws and ordered the US Ambassador for the second time this week. So far, however, Beijing is only threatened with "countermeasures." After all, Beijing should also be aware that the "Human Rights and Democracy Ordinance" currently has no concrete effects. It is based on the fact that it will not be put into practice or will have concrete consequences.
Is there a reason for that?
US President Trump has kept a backdoor open. "Certain provisions in the regulation could interfere with the exercise of the president's constitutional authority to determine US foreign policy," Trump said. His government would treat the regulations as they accorded with its executive powers.
Could Trump not have vetoed?
Trump had been reluctant to face the protest movement and Beijing directly. He could have vetoed the laws, but he did not prevent the laws. Rather, he would have his own party friends in Congress against him, where he needs just any support. The projects were approved with only one vote in the House of Representatives by Congress bipartisan. Thus, the necessary two-thirds majority would have come easily, with the veto could have been overruled. He did not want to let that happen.
How will the dispute affect the trade talks now?
Trump was obviously looking for a time after the market closes and before the Thanksgiving holiday in the US on Thursday. He is aware of the concerns of investors who fear damage to the difficult negotiations for a first agreement in the one-year trade war with China. The buffer may help prevent overly strong stock market reactions. Certainly the laws are not helpful for the negotiations, but both sides have kept political issues away from the trade talks. Both Trump and China's President Xi Jinping seek and need a solution. China also did not mention the trade talks in its responses, but vaguely warned that "cooperation in key areas" could be harmed if the laws are implemented.
Is not Trump doing an impossible balancing act here?
In the end, the US President says, "I have signed these laws out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong." This is likely to see China's head of state and party leader very differently.
Law draft to tear gas
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chinese
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chinese