Trump says new US law on Hong Kong doesn’t help China trade talks

US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with China's Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington February 22, 2019. — Reuters pic
US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with China's Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington February 22, 2019. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, Dec 2 — US President Donald Trump said yesterday US legislation backing protesters in Hong Kong did not make trade negotiations with China easier, but added he believes Beijing still wants a deal with the United States.

The law “doesn’t make it better, but we’ll see what happens,” Trump said, talking to reporters. He gave no indication when the deal would be finalised, but two other US officials said a deal could still happen this year depending on China’s actions.

Washington and Beijing have yet to ink a so-called “phase one” trade agreement announced in October, which had raised hopes of a de-escalation in their prolonged trade war. The global economy has shuddered with each salvo of tariff hikes by the world’s two largest economies.

“The Chinese are always negotiating. I’m very happy where we are,” Trump said as he prepared to depart the White House for a Nato summit in London. “The Chinese want to make a deal. We’ll see what happens.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping said last month he wants to work out a trade deal with Washington, but broader bilateral tensions have flared amid US legislative action supporting Hong Kong’s protesters, and targeting camps for Uighur ethnic minorities in the western region of Xinjiang.

Trump last week signed a new law backing protesters in Hong Kong and threatened China with possible sanctions on human rights. Beijing in response barred US military vessels and aircraft from visiting Hong Kong and sanctioned several US non-government organisations. News site Axios also reported on Sunday the Hong Kong law stalled the trade deal.

Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the official People’s Daily newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, tweeted Tuesday that Beijing will soon release its so-called unreliable entities list imposing sanctions against those who harm China’s interests.

The paper said China is expediting the process for the list because the US House is expected to pass a bill on Xinjiang that will “harm Chinese firms’ interests”, and that “relevant” US entities will be part of Beijing’s list.

The US Senate in September passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019, a bill that calls on China to end what it calls “arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment” of Uighurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities. The bill is being considered by the US House of Representatives.

Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin also tweeted separately today that China could ban all US diplomatic passport holders from visiting Xinjiang and may also impose visa restrictions against US lawmakers and officials with “odious performance” on Xinjiang. He did not say how he obtained this information.

When asked to comment on the claim, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying repeated comments she made yesterday that China will implement further measures according to how the situation develops.

“The determination of China’s government to oppose foreign forces interfering in China’s internal affairs is firm and unshakable,” said Hua, speaking at a news briefing in Beijing today.

The US embassy in Beijing declined to comment on the reports of possible Chinese government action.

New tariffs loom

Experts and people close to the White House have said a China-US trade agreement may not be signed until next year. But White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters at the White House on Monday that the deal was still possible before the end of the year.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross cited a further 15 per cent US tariff on about US$156 billion (RM651.5 billion) worth of Chinese imports set to take effect December 15 as a natural deadline, and said time was running out for China to avoid it.

“If nothing happens between now and then, the president has made quite clear he’ll put the tariffs in,” Ross told Fox Business Network.

Asked if the Trump administration was willing to roll back current tariffs on China, Ross added: “It all depends on their behaviour between now and then.” — Reuters

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