President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he signed legislation to impose sanctions on China in response to its interference with Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Trump also said that he signed an executive order ending the preferential treatment that Hong Kong has long enjoyed.
“Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China,” Trump said during a lengthy speech in the White House Rose Garden that quickly drifted away from that legislation to touch on a variety of campaign issues.
“No special privileges, no special economic treatment and no export of sensitive technologies. In addition to that, as you know, we are placing massive tariffs and have placed very large tariffs on China.”
The law, dubbed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, would slap mandatory sanctions on Chinese officials and companies that helped back Beijing’s imposition of a security law that clamps down on dissent in Hong Kong. The sanctions bill passed both houses of Congress earlier this month.
The Trump administration has been openly critical of Beijing’s sweeping national security law aimed at limiting Hong Kong’s autonomy and banning literature critical of the Chinese Communist Party.
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the new law as an “Orwellian move” and an assault “on the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.”
The security law is the latest issue to ratchet up tensions relations between Washington and Beijing. The Trump administration has previously blamed China for the unfolding health crisis caused by the coronavirus, and it has criticized Beijing for its illegal territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The world’s two largest economies are also struggling to mend trade relations, with intellectual property theft proving to be a major sticking point.
Trump began his speech in the Rose Garden focused on targeting China’s actions, but quickly pivoted to lash out at an array of his political opponents – especially presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Biden’s “entire career has been a gift to the Chinese Communist Party,” Trump said, adding that “it’s been devastating for the American worker.”
“Biden expressed more fawning praise about China on an ordinary day than about America,” Trump claimed. He quoted Biden saying recently that the U.S. has “never lived up to” its founding ideals.
Trump also spent a significant chunk of the speech railing against what seemed to be the bulk of Biden’s campaign platform. The president attacked Biden on issues including immigration, energy policy, school choice and military funding, among others.
“There’s never been a time when the two candidates were so different,” Trump said. Trump also said he will be signing a “very powerful” merit-based immigration act, without providing specific details. The Supreme Court recently ruled against Trump over his effort to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, known as DACA, which shielded hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation and allowed them to receive work permits.
Biden’s campaign did not immediately provide a response to the president’s attacks.
The Trump administration for months has hinted that the U.S. would take steps to punish China for failing to prevent the virus, which was first observed in the Chinese city of Wuhan, from spreading throughout the globe.
The pandemic has killed more than half a million people worldwide and wrought havoc on the global economy, with leaders at every level of government imposing extreme measures to try to slow the spread of the disease. The United States has reported more deaths and infections from Covid-19 than any other nation, and a recent surge of new cases in numerous states suggests the crisis is far from over.
Trump has placed the blame for the devastation squarely with China, and has frequently referred to the coronavirus in terms that associate it with the country – such as the “Chinese Virus” – over the objections of critics who call those names xenophobic.
“China’s secrecy, deceptions and cover-up allowed it to spread all over the world … and China must be held fully accountable,” Trump said in an Independence Day speech at the White House.
The pandemic has thrown into question the status of Trump’s long-sought trade deal with Beijing, the first phase of which was signed by both nations earlier this year. Trump said last week that America’s relationship with China has been “severely damaged” and that he isn’t even thinking about the next stage in possible trade negotiations.
In a CBS News interview earlier Tuesday, Trump doubled down: “Look, we made a great trade deal but as soon as the deal was done, the ink wasn’t even dry and they hit us with the plague. So right now I’m not interested in talking to China about another deal. I’m interested in doing other things with China.”