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China summons US Ambassador over Hong Kong sanctions

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China and the U.S. gave differing accounts of a meeting between a senior Chinese official and the U.S. ambassador, as the two countries sparred over Hong Kong. The AP reported today. A statement from the Chinese affirms that China’s foreign ministry summoned the US ambassador to protest Washington’s sanctions over a controversial national security law in Hong Kong, and said it would retaliate. The warning was issued by vice foreign minister Zheng Zeguang to US Ambassador Terry Branstad hours after President Donald Trump stripped Hong Kong of preferential trade treatment and authorised sanctions on banks.

“This is gross interference in China’s internal affairs and seriously violates international law and basic norms of international relations,” the foreign ministry affirmed in a statement. “In order to safeguard its own legitimate interests, China will take the necessary response to the US’s wrong actions, including sanctions against US entities and individuals,” the statement adds. Zheng said that threatened sanctions and the withdrawal of special trading privileges for Hong Kong are not about democracy and freedom in the semi-autonomous territory but an attempt to contain China’s development.

Zheng also told Branstad that the US had recently taken “bad actions” on the Chinese regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, and the South China Sea, “further exposing the nature of its hegemony”. With regard to this, China has and will continue to take countermeasures to resolutely safeguard its core interests. I want to tell the US that any bullying and injustice it imposes on China will be resolutely countered.” He urged the U.S. not to go “further and further on the wrong path.”

A statement posted on the U.S. Embassy website, on the other side, affirms Branstad had met Zheng the previous day to express deep American concern about Chinese decisions that erode fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong. It said Branstad explained the Trump administration’s conclusion that the city of 7.5 million people is no longer sufficiently autonomous from China to merit special treatment on trade, and called on China to restore Hong Kong’s liberties. Trump signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act into law on Tuesday, as well as an executive order affirming an earlier decision to eliminate preferential treatment for Hong Kong.

The U.S and other Western democracies have grown increasingly concerned over developments in Hong Kong, and in particular China’s imposition of a national security law that is seen as a threat to freedom of speech and the right to protest. At the same time, the Trump administration has challenged China on multiple fronts, treating it as a strategic competitor, an approach that seems only likely to expand as Trump faces a tough battle for re-election this fall.

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