Trump moves to scrap Hong Kong special treatment, cuts ties with WHO

01, Jun. 2020

WASHINGTON, Kyodo - President Donald Trump said Friday his administration will take steps to revoke special treatment of Hong Kong over Beijing's perceived moves to erode the territory's freedoms, while cutting ties with what he calls the "China-centric" World Health Organization.

He also said he plans to sanction Chinese officials involved in curtailing Hong Kong's autonomy and block the entry to the United States of certain Chinese graduate students who are suspected of stealing intellectual property and technology on behalf of Beijing.

Combined file photo shows U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Kyodo)
Combined file photo shows U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Kyodo)

Trump's announcement, which came a day after the Chinese parliament approved a plan to impose a national security law on Hong Kong, is certain to inflame tensions between the United States and China that are already strained over the coronavirus outbreak and trade issues.

"Hong Kong is no longer sufficiently autonomous to warrant the special treatment that we have afforded the territory," Trump said at a press announcement, adding, "Therefore, I'm directing my administration to begin the process of eliminating policy exemptions that give Hong Kong different and special treatment."

Under China's "one country, two systems" policy, Hong Kong was promised it would enjoy the rights and freedoms of a semiautonomous region for 50 years following the former British colony's return to Chinese rule in 1997.

In line with the framework, the United States under a 1992 law gives Hong Kong a special status separate from the rest of mainland China on matters including tariffs and visa issuance. The situation has been seen as fundamental to Hong Kong's role as an attractive investment destination and international financial hub.

But Trump said China has replaced this promised formula of "one country, two systems" with "one country, one system," by unilaterally imposing control over Hong Kong in the name of protecting national security.

Trump said his administration will review "the full range of agreements" the United States has with Hong Kong, ranging from the extradition treaty to export controls, with "few exceptions."

At the same press briefing, Trump blasted the WHO, which he has repeatedly criticized for serving as a Chinese "puppet" and pushing the country's "misinformation" about the coronavirus outbreak.

"China has total control over the World Health Organization," he said. "Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization and redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs."

Cutting off U.S. funding would deal a heavy blow to the WHO. The United States was the top contributor in 2018 and 2019, providing $893 million in total, or about 15 percent of the Geneva-based agency's funding.

Last week, Trump notified the WHO that he would permanently freeze U.S. funding of the U.N. agency and reconsider membership unless it committed to major reform within the next 30 days.

Facing a presidential election in November, Trump, who has seen criticism at home for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has increasingly shifted the blame to the WHO and China, where the virus was first detected late last year.

The president again alleged on Friday that China initially covered up the virus outbreak, which "allowed the disease to spread all over the world, instigating a global pandemic."

The president also said he will take steps to protect American investors from "hidden and undue risks associated with financing Chinese companies" through a study of different practices of Chinese companies listed on U.S. financial markets.

Despite his harsh rhetoric against China, Trump did not go so far as expressing a desire to scrap a partial trade agreement signed with China in January.

The trade agreement brought a temporary truce in a long-running tit-for-tat tariff war, with China agreeing to boost its purchases of U.S. goods and services over the next two years by at least $200 billion, a move that is expected to help the United States reduce its trade deficit with the world's second-largest economy.

Trump has become less enthusiastic about the significance of the so-called phase one deal as the coronavirus pandemic devastates the U.S. economy, triggering concerns that he may seek to terminate the hard-fought accord. (Kyodo)