Hong Kong officials lashed out on Saturday at moves by US President Donald Trump to strip the city of its special status in a bid to punish China for imposing national security laws on the global financial hub.
Speaking hours after Trump said the city no longer warranted economic privileges and that some officials could face sanctions, security minister John Lee told reporters that Hong Kong could not be threatened and would push ahead with the new laws.
“I don’t think they will succeed in using any means to threaten the [Hong Kong] government, because we believe what we are doing is right,” Lee said.
Justice minister Teresa Cheng said the basis for Trump’s actions was “completely false and wrong”, saying national security laws were legal and necessary for the former British colony.
Trump had announced the decision at a White House news conference on Friday, saying Beijing had broken its word over Hong Kong’s autonomy.
He said its move was a “tragedy” for the people of Hong Kong, China and the world.
“We will take action to revoke Hong Kong’s preferential treatment,” he said, adding that Washington would also impose sanctions on individuals seen as responsible for smothering Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Trump said he was directing his administration to begin the process of eliminating policy agreements on Hong Kong, ranging from extradition treatment to export controls.
He said he would also issue a proclamation to better safeguard vital university research by suspending the entry of foreign nationals from China identified as potential security risks – a move believed to be aimed at Chinese graduate students studying in the US.
“It is said that we are becoming ‘one country, one system’ and we’ve lost [our] autonomy,” said Cheng, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing justice secretary.
“That is completely false and wrong… We are one country… and therefore, as far as national security is concerned, as in any other country in the world, this is a matter that belongs to the central authorities.”
On Friday, representatives from the US and the United Kingdom raised concerns about China’s Hong Kong plans at the United Nations Security Council, prompting protests from both China and Russia.
The 15-member council informally discussed Hong Kong in a closed virtual meeting after China opposed a US call on Wednesday for a formal open council meeting, arguing that it was not an issue of international peace and security.
US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft asked: “Are we going to take the honourable stand to defend the human rights and the dignified way of life that millions of Hong Kong citizens have enjoyed and deserve … or are we going to allow the Chinese Communist Party to violate international law and force its will on the people of Hong Kong?”
“This legislation risks curtailing the freedoms that China has undertaken to uphold as a matter of international law,” the UK’s acting UN ambassador, Jonathan Allen, said after the council discussion. “We are also extremely concerned that … it will exacerbate the existing deep divisions in Hong Kong.”
Diplomats said Russia and China responded during the council discussion by criticising the US over the Minneapolis killing of an unarmed Black man – who was seen on video gasping for breath while a white police officer knelt on his neck – and its handling of growing unrest.
“Why US denies China’s right to restore peace & order in Hong Kong while brutally dispersing crowds at home?” Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy posted on Twitter after the council discussion.
China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun said in a statement after the meeting that the US and UK should “mind their own business,” adding that: “Any attempt to use Hong Kong to interfere in China’s internal matters is doomed to fail.”