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China warns U.S. of "strong countermeasures" to looming legislation on Hong Kong

HONG KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-CRIME-UNREST
Riot police stand guard on a bridge in front of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University where dozens of pro-democracy protesters remain holed up inside, in the Hung Hom district of Hong Kong on November 21, 2019. Getty/NICOLAS ASFOURI

Beijing — China on Thursday demanded President Donald Trump veto legislation aimed at supporting human rights in Hong Kong and renewed a threat to take "strong countermeasures" if the bills become law. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act undermined both China's interests and those of the U.S. in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

"We urge the U.S. to grasp the situation, stop its wrongdoing before it's too late, prevent this act from becoming law (and) immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs," Geng said at a daily news briefing.

"If the U.S. continues to make the wrong moves, China will be taking strong countermeasures for sure," Geng said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Thursday that the proposed U.S. legislation "indulges violent criminals" and would "muddle or even destroy Hong Kong," while also damaging U.S. interests in the Chinese territory.

During a meeting in Beijing with former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Wang called the bills "a naked interference in China's internal affairs," according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

What would the new law do?

The act mandates sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses and requires an annual review of the favorable trade status that Washington grants Hong Kong.

Another bill prohibits export to Hong Kong police of certain nonlethal munitions, including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannons, stun guns and tasers.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the bills Wednesday, a day after the Senate passed them on voice votes. The bills now go to the White House for Mr. Trump's signature, and the White House signaled that he would sign the measure.

Why is it happening now?

Hong Kong held on to its advantageous trading status with the U.S. upon its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997, in recognition of Beijing's pledge to allow it to retain its own laws, independent judiciary and civil and economic freedoms.

That independent status has come into question amid moves by Beijing to gradually strengthen its political control over the territory, helping spark months of increasingly violent protests.

Protesters and police locked in tense standoff at Hong Kong university

This week, China's legislature argued it had the sole right to interpret the validity of Hong Kong's laws after the territory's court struck down an order banning the wearing of masks at protests. Legal scholars described that as a power grab violating the governing framework known as "one country, two systems."

With Hong Kong's Beijing-backed government refusing to enter into dialogue or make concessions, the territory's police force has been given broad powers to quell the protests. That has brought numerous complaints of excessive use of force and the abuse of detainees, along with a near-complete lack of accountability for officers.

In a September report, Amnesty International documented numerous cases where protesters had to be hospitalized for treatment of injuries inflicted while being arrested.

Hong Kong anti-government protester shot, another set on fire

"Time and again, police officers meted out violence prior to and during arrests, even when the individual had been restrained or detained. The use of force was therefore clearly excessive, violating international human rights law," said Nicholas Bequelin, the group's regional direct for East and South East Asia.

Police spokesmen deny using excessive force, even in cases where officers are videotaped kicking and beating protesters who have already been immobilized.

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