Donald Trump has signed two US bills supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, defying calls from China to block the legislation and putting the territory’s special trade status at risk.
The president ratified the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act after it was overwhelmingly passed by Republican and Democrat lawmakers, a rare example of bipartisan co-operation. It mandates the US government to re-examine annually Hong Kong’s special status and imposes sanctions on anyone who has suppressed human rights in the former British colony.
Mr Trump also signed a second bill that directs the US administration to block new export licences for tear gas, rubber bullets and handcuffs being sent to the Hong Kong police force.
China’s foreign ministry condemned Mr Trump’s decision, saying in a statement that Washington had “seriously interfered with China’s internal affairs”.
“The US has ignored facts, confused black with white, and supported violent criminals and vandals who burned and injured innocent people, trampled the rule of law and endangered social order,” the ministry added.
It also repeated earlier warnings from Chinese officials that Beijing would take “resolute countermeasures” in response.
Hong Kong’s government called the move “unnecessary and unwarranted” in a statement, saying the decision “would send an erroneous signal to protesters” that would not help resolve the crisis.
The passage of the laws follow almost six months of unrest in Hong Kong, and come after a week of violent clashes as police laid siege to a university campus. Police on Thursday entered the grounds of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where about 20 protesters are believed to remain holed up after more than a week.
In a statement issued by the White House on Wednesday night, Mr Trump said he signed the bills “out of respect for President Xi [Jinping], China and the people of Hong Kong”.
“They are being enacted in the hope that leaders and representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long-term peace and prosperity for all,” the statement added.
The president’s actions are likely to draw further ire and condemnation from Beijing, even as the US continues to negotiate with China over the completion of a “phase one” trade deal.
There have previously been signs of caution from the US administration over criticising Beijing’s approach to Hong Kong. In June the Financial Times reported that Mr Trump had promised Mr Xi at the G20 summit in Osaka that the US would tone down its criticism of the country’s approach to Hong Kong to revive trade talks.
Both top Republican and Democratic senators applauded the signing of the bills. Jim Risch, the Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said it was “an important step forward in holding the Chinese Communist party accountable for its erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and its repression of fundamental human rights”.
Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the committee, said the signing of the bills “ensures the United States finally sends a clear and unequivocal message to the people of Hong Kong: we are with you”.
Additional reporting by Bertha Ng