China threatens to ‘counter-attack’ US over Hong Kong curbs

Updated Jun 02 2020

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In this photo Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian takes a question at the daily media briefing in Beijing on April 8, 2020. — AFP
In this photo Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian takes a question at the daily media briefing in Beijing on April 8, 2020. — AFP

BEIJING: Beijing warned Washington on Monday of retaliation after President Donald Trump announced restrictions on Chinese students in the US in protest against a new national security law in Hong Kong.

China also said ongoing unrest in the US highlighted its severe problems of racism and police violence — and exposed Washington’s double standards in supporting Hong Kong’s protesters.

The two sides have clashed repeatedly on different topics and on Friday Trump said he would restrict Chinese graduate students and start reversing the special status enjoyed by semi-autonomous Hong Kong in customs and other areas.

Beijing reacted angrily to the moves, saying it was “detrimental to both sides”.

“Any words and actions that harm the interests of China will be met with counter-attacks on the Chinese side,” said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a press briefing on Monday.

He said that Washington’s measures “seriously interfere in China’s internal affairs and undermine US-China relations”. China’s rubber-stamp parliament on Thursday approved the plans for the law, which would punish secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and acts that endanger national security — as well as allow Chinese security agencies to operate openly in Hong Kong.

The move followed seven months of huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong last year.

It was condemned by pro-democracy activists and Western nations as another attempt to chip away at the city’s freedoms.

Hong Kong police on Monday banned an upcoming vigil marking the Tiananmen crackdown anniversary citing the coronavirus pandemic, the first time the gathering has been halted in three decades.

The candlelight June 4 vigil usually attracts huge crowds and is the only place on Chinese soil where such a major commemoration of the anniversary is still allowed.

In Beijing, Zhao also seized on ongoing anti-racism protests in the US to accuse the US of hypocrisy, calling racism “a chronic disease of American society”.

Washington’s response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of police was a “textbook example of its world-famous double standards”, Zhao said.

“Why does the US lionize the so-called Hong Kong independence and black violence elements as heroes and activists, while calling people who protest against racism ‘rioters’?” Zhao asked.

Protests and rallies, sometimes violent, were sweeping the United States over the death of Floyd.

The US Department of Defence said that around 5,000 National Guard troops had been mobilised in 15 states as well as the capital, with another 2,000 on standby.

Beijing has long been infuriated by criticism from Western governments — especially the United States — over its crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying took aim at Washington on Saturday.

“I can’t breathe,” she said on Twitter, with a screenshot of a tweet by US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus that had criticised China’s policy in Hong Kong.

Hua was quoting the words Floyd was heard saying repeatedly before his death in Minneapolis — after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The police officer has since been charged with third-degree murder.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2020