Amid rising concerns that Beijing and Washington are drifting toward a Cold War, U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday declared that China’s rise is not a positive development for the United States.
Trump made the remarks in the White House Rose Garden, announcing he had signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act and issued an executive order ending preferential trade treatment for Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China,” Trump said of the order.
The act imposes sanctions on people, entities and financial institutions connected to China deemed responsible for actions to remove autonomy from Hong Kong.
Responding to a reporter’s question, Trump said he has no plans to speak to Chinese President Xi Jinping anytime soon.
The remarks came on the heels of fresh sanctions on China over its repression of minorities in Xinjiang and moves by Washington to cut off Chinese companies from American technology.
The president spent much of his hour in the Rose Garden on Tuesday attacking his opponent in this year’s presidential election, blaming former Vice President Joe Biden for a calamity of errors regarding China and other matters during the Barack Obama administration.
“Donald Trump is busy trying to rewrite his miserable history as President of caving to President Xi and the Chinese government at every turn,” the Biden campaign responded in a statement. “But try as he may, Trump can’t hide from a record of weakness and bad deals that consistently put China first and America last.”
With the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic damage certain to be major topics of the election season, Trump continues to focus blame on China, where the infection was first reported.
“We hold China fully responsible for concealing the virus and unleashing it upon the world,” the president said.
American Enterprise Institute research fellow Zack Cooper expects Trump to pull the United States out of its trade deal with China as the November election approaches to show that he is tough on Beijing.
“But I'm not sure that that's really going to get the job done, and it's going to hurt the market a bit, too,” Cooper told VOA. “So, I think there's some real downsides here for the president in making China such a big campaign issue.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement Monday declaring a strengthening of U.S. policy and making clear that China’s “claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea — waters through which $4 trillion in trade pass annually — are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.”
Pompeo added that “the world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.”
The U.S. statement “makes explicit things that had been implied by previous administrations,” said Gregory Poling, senior fellow for Southeast Asia and director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “And in that, it sets the stage for more effective diplomatic messaging and stronger responses to China’s harassment of its neighbors.”
In response to Pompeo’s announcement, China’s embassy in Washington accused the United States of “throwing its weight around in every sea of the world.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters during a briefing that Beijing has never strived to build an empire in the South China Sea.
“It has become so difficult for the U.S. to marshal an international alliance to counter China because the charges it directs at China are groundless and one-sided, stoked by its strategic anxiety,” the Communist Party-controlled China Daily said in an editorial on Tuesday. “Only those willing to bet their future on the current U.S. administration are likely to be duped by its scaremongering.”
Prior to the president’s remarks, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia said the Trump administration could apply additional sanctions on Chinese officials.
“Nothing’s off the table,” David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said during an online event organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies
China announced Tuesday it would sanction U.S. aerospace company Lockheed Martin over recent weapons sales to Taiwan, which Beijing claims is a rogue province of China.
The Trump administration has pressured allies to cut ties for their development of 5G wireless technology with Chinese company Huawei, a move Britain took on Tuesday.
Some influential voices inside and outside the Trump administration are pushing for U.S. technology companies to decouple themselves from China’s supply chain, perceiving the links as a long-term threat to national security.
VOA's Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.