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China says US action on Hong Kong ‘doomed to fail’

US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looked on as President Trump spoke about China in the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday.
US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looked on as President Trump spoke about China in the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday.AFP via Getty Images

BEIJING — The mouthpiece newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party said Saturday that the US decision to end some trading privileges for Hong Kong “grossly interferes” in China’s internal affairs and is “doomed to fail.”

The Hong Kong government called President Trump’s announcement unjustified and said it is “not unduly worried by such threats,’’ despite concerns of them driving companies away from the Asian financial and trading center.

An editorial in China’s official People’s Daily newspaper said that attempts at “forcing China to make concessions on core interests including sovereignty and security through blackmailing or coercion ... can only be wishful thinking and day-dreaming!”

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Trump’s move came after China’s ceremonial parliament voted Thursday to bypass Hong Kong’s Legislature and develop and enact national security legislation on its own for the semi-autonomous territory. Democracy activists and many legal experts worry that the laws could curtail free speech and opposition political activities.

China had issued no official response as of late Saturday, but earlier said it would retaliate if the United States went ahead with its threat to revoke trading advantages granted to Hong Kong after its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

“This hegemonic act of attempting to interfere in Hong Kong affairs and grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs will not frighten the Chinese people and is doomed to fail,’’ the People’s Daily said.

In Hong Kong, small groups of Beijing supporters marched to the US Consulate on Saturday carrying Chinese flags and signs protesting “American interference in China’s internal affair” and calling Trump “shameless and useless.”

Elsewhere in the city, activists including Joshua Wong held a news conference to welcome Trump’s announcement.

Tensions between the United States and China over Hong Kong have increased over the past year, with the United States defending pro-democracy protesters who clashed with police last year and China vilifying them as terrorists and separatists.

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“It is now clear that Hong Kong is caught in the middle of major China-US tensions,” said Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. “That is a real shame for Hong Kong and it will be a challenge in the months ahead.”

Joseph said there were many unanswered questions about how the trading relationship will unravel and predicted that “it won’t be like flipping a switch.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set the stage for Trump’s announcement by notifying Congress on Wednesday that Hong Kong no longer has the high degree of autonomy that it is guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” framework.

Trump said Friday that his administration would begin eliminating the “full range” of agreements that had given Hong Kong a relationship with the United States that mainland China lacked, including exemptions from controls on certain exports.

“China has replaced its promised formula of one country, two systems, with one country, one system,” he said, echoing statements by pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.

A Hong Kong government statement accused Trump of smearing and demonizing the government’s duty to safeguard national security and called allegations that the security law would undermine individual freedoms “simply fallacious.’’

Washington’s response could include US travel bans or other sanctions on officials connected with the crackdown on last year’s pro-democracy protests, including members of the Hong Kong police force.