Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists were thrilled by President Donald Trump’s decision to sign two bills supporting their movement, and celebrated the “timely Thanksgiving gift” by playing the Star-Spangled Banner at a celebratory rally.
On the Chinese Mainland though, the response was very different. Beijing branded the new laws “stark hegemonic acts” that were “full of prejudice and arrogance,” and vowed it would retaliate with unspecified “firm countermeasures” if Washington didn’t change course.
“The U.S. has been disregarding facts and distorting truth. It openly backed violent criminals who rampantly smashed facilities, set fire, assaulted innocent civilians, trampled on the rule of law, and jeopardized social order,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Thursday.
“This Act will only further expose the malicious and hegemonic nature of U.S. intentions to the Chinese people.”
The main law at the heart of the dispute, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, requires the U.S. government to certify at least once a year that the city retains enough autonomy from Beijing to warrant the favored trading status with the U.S. that has allowed it to become a global financial hub. It also requires that the U.S. sanction Chinese and Hong Kong officials who commit human rights violations in the city.
Trump also signed a second bill banning the export of teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns to the Hong Kong police, who have been accused of using excessive force against protesters.
China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad Thursday to lodge a “strong protest,” urging the U.S. not to put the new laws into practice, and demanding Washington stop interfering in China’s internal affairs.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang would not specify what measures Beijing was considering in retaliation, but the editor-in-chief of China’s state-run Global Times claimed on Twitter that Beijing was considering putting U.S. politicians who drafted the law on its no-fly list, banning them from the Chinese Mainland, Hong Kong and Macau.
Trump, who has been seeking a deal to end a trade war with China, had been publicly non-committal about the legislation, saying he supported Hong Kongers but that Chinese President Xi Jinping was an “incredible guy.”
But the overwhelming congressional support for the legislation — approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate and by all but one lawmaker in the House of Representatives — meant it could have easily gained the two-thirds of votes in both chambers necessary to override the president’s veto, had he chosen to object.
"I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, 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," Trump said in a statement.
In Hong Kong, the passing of the act was further good news for the pro-democracy movement, which enjoyed a landslide victory over pro-Beijing candidates in local elections last Sunday, taking control of 17 out of 18 districts.
Activists celebrated the developments in Washington by holding a “Thanksgiving rally” in the central business district Thursday.
The Star Spangled Banner played as crowds arrived at the rally, where posters were on display thanking U.S. lawmakers who had backed the legislation, including Marco Rubio, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
Prominent activist Nathan Law, founding chair of the pro-democracy Demosisto party, tweeted that the law was a “timely thanksgiving gift” and said the next step was for other governments to show solidarity by passing similar laws.
“We need more countries to act with us,” he said.
Cover: A protester holds a placard with a quote from former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson in Hong Kong, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)