Trump signs Hong Kong human rights act as China blasts ‘plainly bullying behavior’

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US President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a law supporting Hong Kong’s months-long protest movement, handing anti-government demonstrators in the semi-autonomous Chinese city a moral victory and likely complicating trade negotiations with Beijing.

The US has long maintained a special trading relationship with Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous territory where mass protests have erupted continuously since June over perceived infringement on its autonomy by Beijing, among a host of other issues.

The new law will require the US to annually confirm that Hong Kong’s special freedoms are being maintained by Beijing — failure to do so could result in Washington withdrawing the city’s special status, a massive blow to the Hong Kong economy.

The bill also lays out a process for the President to impose sanctions and travel restrictions on those who are found to be knowingly responsible for arbitrary detention, torture and forced confession of any individual in Hong Kong, or other violations of internationally recognized human rights in the Asian financial hub.

However, the US President’s statement also indicated the administration would only enforce parts of the measure — as it interferes with the President’s ability to conduct foreign policy.

“Although human rights and democracy are mentioned in the title of the Act, some of the provisions in the Act are actually about export control and enforcement of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations in Hong Kong, which are totally unrelated to human rights and democracy in Hong Kong,” a spokesman said.

Trump’s announcement comes at a delicate time for US-China relations, as trade negotiators appeared to be edging closer to a trade deal between the US and China.

On Tuesday, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and his US counterparts, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, spoke on the phone to discuss trade negotiations, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce.

“Both sides discussed each other’s core concerns and reached a consensus on how to resolve these issues. Both sides agreed to maintain communication on the remaining matters in (trade) talks regarding a phase one agreement,” the Commerce Ministry statement read.

By Paul LeBlanc and Steven Jiang, CNN

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly reflect what’s in the legislation.

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