The United States warned China Thursday against any move to weaken Hong Kong’s autonomy following reports that China’s parliament will propose national security legislation for the territory in response to pro-democracy protests that often turned violent.
"If it happens, we'll address that issue very strongly," U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday as he left the White House for a trip to Michigan.
The president has been critical of China for several months, blaming it for the spread of the coronavirus beyond Wuhan, where it originated.
“Any effort to impose national security legislation that does not reflect the will of the people of Hong Kong would be highly destabilizing and would be met with strong condemnation from the United States and the international community,” said Morgan Ortagus, State Department spokesperson.
“As the Secretary has stated, we are delaying the submission of our annual Hong Kong Policy Act Report to Congress to allow us to account for any additional actions that Beijing may be contemplating in the run-up to and during the National People's Congress that would further undermine Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.”
Members of Congress were equally critical of China’s plans.
"A further crackdown from Beijing will only intensify the Senate’s interest in reexamining the U.S.-China relationship,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said in a statement.
“Reports that the CCP (Communist Party of China) will introduce legislation implementing Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law at this week’s National People’s Congress indicate Beijing will begin an unprecedented assault against Hong Kong’s autonomy,” Sens. James Risch, Marco Rubio and Cory Gardiner of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said in a statement.
Article 23 of the Basic Law says the Hong Kong government shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the central government. An attempt to implement the article failed in 2003 in the face of large demonstrations.
“The United States will stand resolute in its support of the Hong Kong people. These developments are of grave concern to the United States and could lead to a significant reassessment on U.S. policy towards Hong Kong,” the senators’ statement added.
“I strongly urge the Chinese Communist Party not to impose additional oppressive legislation disguised as ‘national security’ on Hong Kong,” Congressman Michael McCaul of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a statement. “Any law passed by the CCP that further stifles the freedom of the people of Hong Kong would only further erode the foundations of One Country, Two Systems, and will not be tolerated by the United States. We stand with the people of Hong Kong, who are fighting for freedom over oppression, and for democracy over the CCP’s tyranny.”
National People’s Congress spokesman Zhang Yesui announced the plan Thursday as an annual high-level political conference in China that was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic for two months got under way in Beijing.
Zhang said the ceremonial Parliament will consider a measure aimed at “establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to safeguard national security.”
Zhang’s announcement seemed to confirm speculation that Beijing would bypass Hong Kong’s own legislature in approving legislation to prevent activity in the territory.