Trump says he'll move to revoke Hong Kong trade status

Saleha Mohsin, Jenny Leonard, Jennifer Jacobs and Justin Sink

President Donald Trump intensified his confrontation with China by punishing the country for the coronavirus pandemic and its steps to curb Hong Kong’s autonomy, moving toward revoking the territory’s special trade status under U.S. law.

He also said he would order financial regulators to examine Chinese firms listed on U.S. stock markets with an eye toward limiting American investment in the companies, and deny entry to Chinese nationals considered to be security threats.

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, May 29, 2020, in Washington.

“Our actions will be strong, our actions will be meaningful,” the president said in a statement from the White House Rose Garden, after citing a litany of longstanding grievances against the country. He took no questions.

More:Trump says US will terminate relationship with WHO

Trump also said he would “terminate” the U.S. relationship with the World Health Organization, declaring that China has “total control” of the agency.

Trump’s announcement came after China’s legislature moved this week to impose a new national security law on Hong Kong that critics say will restrict freedoms in the city. He has also sought to blame China for the coronavirus pandemic that’s killed more than 100,000 Americans as domestic criticism of his handling of the outbreak has mounted.

“China’s pattern of misconduct is well known,” Trump said, complaining about the history of the U.S. trading relationship with the country.

He said Beijing “unlawfully claimed territory in the Pacific Ocean” and “broke its word with the world on ensuring the autonomy of Hong Kong.”

“The Chinese government has continuously violated its promises to us,” he said. “These plain facts cannot be overlooked or swept aside. The world is now suffering as a result of the malfeasance of the Chinese government,” he added, a reference to the pandemic.

The retaliatory measures did not include withdrawal from the “phase one” trade deal Trump signed in January.

China’s legislature has approved a plan to draft legislation that Hong Kong democracy advocates say will curtail freedom of speech and undermine the city’s independent judiciary.

That prompted Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to announce earlier this week that the administration no longer considers the city sufficiently autonomous under a 1992 law that allows for easier travel and trade between the U.S. and Hong Kong. The law also allows companies based in the Chinese territory access to American technologies deemed sensitive to national security that face export restrictions in mainland China.

Chinese officials earlier Friday called potential U.S. actions over Hong Kong “purely nonsense,” saying the matter was an internal affair and that essential freedoms in the city would remain intact.

Beijing urged the U.S. to stop its “frivolous political manipulation,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing, reiterating Beijing’s support for Hong Kong police in upholding the law. Chinese officials have indicated they may retaliate against U.S. firms over the president’s decisions.

Trump’s announcement follows weeks of growing anger toward Beijing within the White House. The president and his advisers have repeatedly blamed the Chinese government for the coronavirus outbreak that began in the country’s Hubei province but that has caused a far greater death toll in the U.S. than China has publicly reported.

“Frankly the U.S. government is – I’ll use the word furious,’ at what China has done in recent days, weeks, and months,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox News earlier on Friday. “They have not behaved well and they have lost the trust, I think, of the whole Western world.”

The U.S. outbreak and the associated economic collapse from social distancing practices adopted to curb the virus’s spread have damaged Trump’s prospects for re-election, public polling shows.

Trump has also expressed frustration that Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural goods are lagging behind levels agreed to in the “phase one” trade agreement he signed with a delegation from Beijing in January.