President Trump signed legislation Tuesday sanctioning Chinese officials and entities for China’s “repressive actions” against the people of Hong Kong, and issued an executive order ending the territory’s preferential treatment by the U.S.
In an hour-long announcement at the White House in which he mainly attacked Democratic rival Joseph R. Biden’s position on Beijing, Mr. Trump said no administration “has been tougher on China than this administration.”
“Joe Biden and President Obama freely allowed China to pillage our factories, plunder our communities and steal our most precious secrets,” Mr. Trump said. “Joe Biden’s entire career has been a gift to the Chinese Communist Party.”
The president signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which the House and Senate approved earlier this month by veto-proof majorities, to hold accountable those involved cracking down on freedoms in Hong Kong.
The law authorizes the State and Treasury departments to impose sanctions on those involved in imposing the Hong Kong security law, and also targeted banks involved in significant transactions with offenders.
“This law gives my administration powerful new tools to hold responsible the individuals and the entities involved in extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom,” Mr. Trump said. “We’ve all watched what happened — not a good situation. Their freedom has been taken away. Their rights have been taken away.”
He added, “And with it goes Hong Kong, in my opinion, because it will no longer be able to compete with free markets.”
China last month imposed the new security law expanding Beijing’s role in controlling law enforcement and political expression in Hong Kong. The U.S. and other Western nations say China’s actions violated the “one country, two systems” principle and the 1997 treaty that transferred Hong Kong to Chinese control. The territory’s autonomy was supposed to be guaranteed until 2047.
Beijing has warned the U.S. to stay out of the Hong Kong actions, calling it a domestic issue.
“China and the U.S. should not seek to remodel each other,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last week. “Instead, they must work together to find ways to peaceful coexistence of different systems and civilizations.”
The president made clear that gone are the days when he hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida and touted their friendship as he hammered out a new trade deal. Asked if he plans to speak with Mr. Xi again soon, the Mr. Trump replied curtly, “No, I have no plan to speak to him.”
Mr. Trump also signed an executive order to end U.S. preferential treatment for Hong Kong “as a result of China’s violation of Hong Kong’s autonomy,” the White House said.
The order includes revoking special treatment for Hong Kong passport holders and ending advantageous U.S. exports rules for Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China,” Mr. Trump said. “No special privileges, no special economic treatment and no export of sensitive technologies.”
Mr. Trump said he plans more actions against China, referring specifically to an administration effort to block U.S. government retirement plans from investing in Chinese funds.
“You’ll see more coming. We don’t want them investing in Chinese military companies,” the president told reporters. “We can impose massive tariffs on China, if we want. We just want to be treated fairly.”
The moves came just a day after the administration rejected outright nearly all of Beijing’s significant maritime claims in the South China Sea. U.S. officials said that was an effort to curb China’s increasing belligerence in the region.
The president has been under increasing criticism, including by Mr. Biden, for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic that originated in China. He has been weighing a series of moves, including his earlier action pulling the U.S. out of the World Health Organization in response to what Mr. Trump has called the group’s “dangerous bias” toward China over the pandemic.
Some administration officials have discussed taking action against Hong Kong’s exchange rate pegged to the U.S. dollar. But others worried the step would also harm the U.S. economy’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The president recited a long list of China’s transgressions, including the spread of the coronavirus.
“We hold China fully responsible for … unleashing it upon the world,” Mr. Trump said.
Portraying Mr. Biden as soft on China is a major theme of the Trump campaign, and the president took full advantage of his platform in the Rose Garden. He asserted that the U.S. lost 10,000 factories during the Obama administration’s eight years in office due to disastrous trade policies.
“Joe Biden supported China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, one of the greatest geopolitical and economic disasters in world history,” Mr. Trump said. “They were given all sorts of advantages … and they took advantage of those advantages.”
The Biden campaign accused Mr. Trump of “trying to rewrite his miserable history as president of caving to President Xi and the Chinese government at every turn.”
“But try as he may, Trump can’t hide from a record of weakness and bad deals that consistently put China first and America last,” the Biden campaign said. “Most damning, Trump failed to get tough on China’s government when it mattered most as COVID-19 emerged and spread. Instead of insisting China’s leaders provide information and access to international experts, Trump praised its government’s non-existent cooperation and transparency and mindlessly echoed the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda efforts to downplay the virus.”
Mr. Trump’s largely political remarks came just a few days after his campaign had to cancel a planned rally in New Hampshire; campaign officials had blamed the cancellation on a tropical storm.
The president again raised his accusations that Mr. Biden’s son Hunter received $1.5 billion in a business deal with China while his father was vice president, and got millions from the Burisma energy company in Ukraine.
“But nothing happens, nobody cares,” the president lamented. “Nobody talks about that.”
He pointed to another good day for the U.S. stock market, and said that Mr. Biden on Tuesday was “pushing a platform that would demolish the U.S. economy.”
“He wants to impose massive energy taxes and job-crushing mandates to eliminate carbon from the United States’ economy,” the president said. “He wants to impose the Green New Deal on our country. This will destroy our country and make us noncompetitive with other countries.”
Asked by a reporter if he believes he’s the underdog against Mr. Biden, the president said no, and predicted he’ll win in November. He said polls showing Mr. Biden leading are wrong.
“I think the enthusiasm now is greater … than it was in 2016,” Mr. Trump said. “I think a lot of people don’t want to talk about it. I think you have a silent majority, the likes [of which] this country has never seen before. I think we have a great chance.”
But he added that he is “very worried about the mail-in vote, because I think it’s subject to tremendous fraud.”