China harshly condemned President Trump's signing of two bills on Hong Kong human rights and said the U.S. will bear the unspecified consequences. Mr. Trump signed the bills, which were approved by near-unanimous consent in the House and Senate, even as he expressed some concerns about complicating the effort to work out a trade deal with China's President Xi Jinping.
China summoned the U.S. ambassador on Thursday to "strongly protest" Mr. Trump's signing of the bills. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng told Ambassador Terry Branstad that the move constituted "serious interference in China's internal affairs and a serious violation of international law."
Le called it a "nakedly hegemonic act." He urged the U.S. to not implement the bills in order to prevent greater damage to U.S.-China relations, according to the ministry. "The U.S. side ignored facts, turned black to white, and blatantly gave encouragement to violent criminals who smashed and burned, harmed innocent city residents, trampled on the rule of law and endangered social order," a statement from the ministry said, calling the bills "extremely evil in nature and dangerous in motive."
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing told CBS News after Branstad's meeting that the U.S. "believes that Hong Kong's autonomy, its adherence to the rule of law, and its commitment to protecting civil liberties are key to preserving its special status under U.S. law."
"As the United States Government has said repeatedly, the Chinese Communist Party must honor its promises to the Hong Kong people, who only want the freedoms and liberties that they have been promised" under the international agreement that saw the semi-autonomous territory handed back to China after decades of British rule in the 1990s.
In a statement after he signed the bill, Mr. Trump said he "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."
Congress approved the bills last week following months of unrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. Before Wednesday's signing announcement, Mr. Trump would only commit to giving the measures a "hard look."
The foreign ministry's statement also advised the U.S. "not to act incautiously, otherwise China will be required to counteract resolutely and all the consequences created by this will have to be borne by the U.S. side," the statement said. It's still unclear, however, how exactly China plans to respond.
The two countries are currently locked in a trade war and have deep differences over China's claims to the South China Sea and Taiwan, as well as human rights issues and accusations of Chinese industrial espionage.
What the new bills do
The first bill Mr. Trump signed 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 munitions bill was passed unanimously, while Republican Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky was the sole House member to oppose the human rights bill.
Trump and Xi
Mr. Trump acknowledged last week that he was weighing the ramifications of signing the bill.
"Look, we have to stand with Hong Kong," Mr. Trump said in an interview on "Fox & Friends." He continued: "But I'm also standing with President Xi. He's a friend of mine. He's an incredible guy."
Democratic and Republican lawmakers applauded the signing of the bills. Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey said it "finally sends a clear and unequivocal message to the people of Hong Kong: We are with you."
Congressman Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who sponsored the House human rights bill, said Xi "should understand that the U.S. is not kidding about human rights. Beating, torturing and jailing of democracy activists is wrong and this historic legislation lets China know that respecting fundamental human rights is paramount."
Activists also hailed Mr. Trump's action.
"I know that many people in Hong Kong are happy that the U.S. government has passed a new bill," said Figo Chan, a 23-year-old Hong Kong protester who was honored with the John McCain Prize for Leadership at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada last weekend.
"No one wants to die and no one wants to be hurt," Chan said. "I hope that citizens of many different countries can in their own way fight for democracy."