China has said it would retaliate after US President Donald Trump ordered an end to preferential trade treatment for Hong Kong and signed into law an act allowing sanctions on banks over Beijing’s clampdown on the semi-autonomous city.
In a statement on Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry said the Hong Kong Autonomy Act “maliciously slanders” new national security legislation Beijing imposed on the city and warned Washington against interference in its internal affairs.
“China will make necessary responses to protect its legitimate interests, and impose sanctions on relevant US personnel and entities,” it added, without elaborating.
The statement came hours after Trump stepped up pressure against Beijing over its tightening grip on Hong Kong, a former British colony that was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of autonomy and freedoms not known in the mainland.
“Today I signed legislation, and an executive order to hold China accountable for its aggressive actions against the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said at the White House.
“Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China – no special privileges, no special economic treatment and no export of sensitive technologies.”
“Their freedom has been taken away; their rights have been taken away,” Trump said, citing Beijing’s new national security law. “And with it goes Hong Kong, in my opinion, because it will no longer be able to compete with free markets. A lot of people will be leaving Hong Kong.”
Beijing had defied international warnings earlier this month by imposing the security law, which criminalises offences it lists as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a chill through Hong Kong, which last year saw massive, and sometimes violent, pro-democracy protests.
In response, US Congress passed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act to penalise banks doing business with Chinese officials who implement the new security law.
Meanwhile, under Trump’s executive order, the US property of any person determined to be responsible for or complicit in “actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Hong Kong” would be blocked, according to the text of the document released by the White House.
It also directs officials to “revoke license exceptions for exports to Hong Kong”, and includes revoking special treatment for Hong Kong passport holders.
However, analysts say that completely ending Hong Kong’s special treatment could prove self-defeating for the US.
Hong Kong was the source of the largest bilateral US goods trade surplus last year, at $26.1bn, US Census Bureau data shows. According to the US Department of State, 85,000 US citizens lived in Hong Kong in 2018, and more than 1,300 US companies operate there, including nearly every major US financial firm.
The territory is a major destination for US legal and accounting services.
Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, reporting from Hong Kong, said Washington’s move has worried businesses in the city.
“The Hong Kong government says this is likely to hurt the US more than it will hurt Hong Kong, and indeed, if you look at the numbers, the US has a bigger trade surplus with Hong Kong. But the reality is there are many Hong Kong businesses that rely on this special status with the US,” she said.
“Hong Kong is a re-exporting hub, which means that goods and services come through Hong Kong into the US to avoid those trade sanctions or restrictions that China may have in dealing with the US.”
US relations with China have already been strained over the global coronavirus pandemic, China’s military buildup in the South China Sea, its treatment of Uighur Muslims and significant trade surpluses.
Al Jazeera and news agencies