Police as they stand guard before a pro-democracy rally against a proposed new security law in Hong Kong. (ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP)

Trump says will announce reaction on Hong Kong tensions within days

WASHINGTON, DC: President Donald Trump said on Tuesday (May 26) he will give a "very interesting" response within days to China's threat to tighten control over Hong Kong, but he was vague on what to expect.

The United States has spoken out strongly against Beijing's plan for tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous territory.

Asked if he was considering sanctions against China or restrictions on visas for Chinese students, Trump said that was a "very important question" and that he would do something "you'll find very interesting."

"It's something you're going to be hearing about over the next, before the end of the week. Very powerfully, I think," he said, without giving more detail.

Asked about a bill in Congress that would lay out sanctions against Chinese officials due to human rights abuses against the Uighur ethnic minority, Trump said, "We're taking a look at it very strongly ... I'll be looking at it this afternoon."

Earlier, Trump spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said the president told her he feels that Hong Kong's status as a global finance centre, alongside London and New York, was in danger.

She said Trump felt that it's "hard to see how Hong Kong can remain a financial hub if China takes over."

Beijing wants to enact legislation banning secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong after months of massive, often violent pro-democracy protests last year.

Activists in Hong Kong warn the clampdown would effectively mean an end to the former British colony's special status, enjoying elections, a free press and other liberties absent in mainland China.

The announcement of plans for the new law - which will be written by Beijing and bypass Hong Kong's legislature - sparked the biggest drop on the city's stock exchange in five years on Friday.

Hong Kong's chief executive, Carrie Lam, said on Tuesday that essential freedoms would remain.

READ: Security laws will not affect Hong Kong's rights and freedoms, says leader Carrie Lam

She argues that the controversial law would "only target a handful of lawbreakers." However, she would not be drawn on what actions and opinions would be deemed illegal.

The commander of China's military garrison in Hong Kong warned the law would "punish any acts of separatism."

"Garrison officers have the determination, faith and capacity to defend national sovereignty," Chen Daoxiang told state-run CCTV.

But Lam said fears the city's business-friendly freedoms were at risk were "totally groundless".

"Hong Kong's freedoms will be preserved and Hong Kong's vibrancy and the core values in terms of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, the various rights and freedoms enjoyed by people, will continue to be there," Lam told reporters.

The proposed law, she added, "only targets a handful of law-breakers ... it protects the vast majority of law-abiding, peace-loving residents."


Hong Kong was upended last year by seven months of huge pro-democracy protests, fueled by years of rising fears that Beijing is chipping away at the city's freedoms.

Millions took to the streets for rallies that routinely ended with clashes between riot police and smaller groups of militant protesters wielding petrol bombs.

READ: Thousands protest in Hong Kong over China security law proposal

Beijing portrays the protests as a foreign-backed plot. Protesters say their rallies are the only way to voice opposition in a city with no universal suffrage.

Thousands protested on Sunday after the security law announcement and were dispersed by tear gas and water cannon in the worst clashes in months.

The precise wording of the security law has yet to be revealed but China's rubber-stamp parliament previewed initial details last week.

It is expected to approve a draft of the law on Thursday and analysts say it could be implemented in the summer.

One concern is a provision allowing Chinese security agents to operate in Hong Kong, with fears it could spark a crackdown on those voicing dissent against Beijing.

Subversion laws are routinely wielded against critics on the mainland.


Asked by a reporter whether mainland officials could arrest protesters in Hong Kong, Lam dismissed the question as "your imagination".

She said anti-government protests would continue to be allowed "if it is done in a legal way", but she did not elaborate on what views would be considered illegal under the new law.

A common chant at protests over the last year has been "Free Hong Kong, revolution of our times", a cry that encapsulates frustration with Beijing's rule since the city's 1997 handover by Britain.

Activists fear such calls might be considered illegal given the broad definition of subversion.

In an interview with AFP on Tuesday, Elsie Leung, a former secretary for justice, said activities seeking to undermine the local government might be covered by the law.

"I don't think chanting of the slogan itself is so important, but when chanting of slogans (is) coupled with other behavior, that might well amount to subversion of Hong Kong's government," she said.

Further protests are expected despite anti-coronavirus measures banning large public gatherings.

On Wednesday Hong Kong's legislature will debate a bill banning insults to China's national anthem.

Police have ringed the building - which was ransacked by protesters last year - with water-filled barriers ahead of the debate.