Furious, China summons U.S. ambassador over Hong Kong bills

BEIJING (AP) — China reacted furiously Thursday to President Donald Trump’s signing of bills on Hong Kong human rights, summoning the U.S. ambassador to strongly protest and warning the move would undermine cooperation with Washington.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that was granted special autonomy when China took control in 1997, has been rocked by six months of sometimes violent pro-democracy demonstrations.

Trump’s approval of the bill was not unexpected. Neither was the reaction from Beijing, given China’s adamant rejections of any commentary on what it considers an internal issue. But the clash comes at a sensitive time and could upset already thorny trade negotiations.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng told Ambassador Terry Branstad that the move constituted “serious interference in China’s internal affairs and a serious violation of international law,” a foreign ministry statement said.

Le called it a “nakedly hegemonic act.” He urged the U.S. not to implement the bills to prevent greater damage to U.S.-China relations, the ministry said.

At a daily news briefing, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang responded to a question about how Trump’s endorsement of the legislation might affect relations by saying it would undermine “cooperation in important areas.”

The U.S. laws, which passed both houses of Congress almost unanimously, mandate sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses in Hong Kong; require an annual review of Hong Kong’s favorable trade status and prohibit the export to Hong Kong police of certain nonlethal munitions.

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Peaceful protests turn violent in Hong Kong
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Peaceful protests turn violent in Hong Kong
HONG KONG, HONG KONG - JUNE 12: A Protester throws back the tear gas during a protest against a proposed extradition law on June 12, 2019 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Large crowds of protesters gathered in central Hong Kong as the city braced for another mass rally in a show of strength against the government over a divisive plan to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, HONG KONG - JUNE 12: A group of riot police push the crowd back during a protest against a proposed extradition law on June 12, 2019 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Large crowds of protesters gathered in central Hong Kong as the city braced for another mass rally in a show of strength against the government over a divisive plan to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, HONG KONG - JUNE 12: A protester gestures during a protest against a proposed extradition law on June 12, 2019 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Large crowds of protesters gathered in central Hong Kong as the city braced for another mass rally in a show of strength against the government over a divisive plan to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, CHINA - 2019/06/12: Thousands of protesters occupied the roads near the Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong to demand to government to withdraw extradition bill. The Hong Kong government has refused to withdraw or delay putting forward the bill after tens of thousands of people marched against it on Sunday. (Photo by Geovien So/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
HONG KONG, CHINA - 2019/06/12: Thousands of protesters occupied the roads near the Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong to demand to government to withdraw extradition bill. The Hong Kong government has refused to withdraw or delay putting forward the bill after tens of thousands of people marched against it on Sunday. (Photo by Geovien So/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Protesters face off with police during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP) (Photo credit should read DALE DE LA REY/AFP/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, CHINA - 2019/06/12: A group of protester seen using umbrellas to defend themselves from the pepper spray and tear has from the police. Thousands of protesters occupied the roads near the Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong to demand to government to withdraw extradition bill. The Hong Kong government has refused to withdraw or delay putting forward the bill after tens of thousands of people marched against it on Sunday. (Photo by Geovien So/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
HONG KONG, CHINA - 2019/06/12: A group of riot police took back a section of the road near the legislative council complex after clearing the protesters out by using tear gas. Thousands of protesters occupied the roads near the Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong to demand to government to withdraw extradition bill. The Hong Kong government has refused to withdraw or delay putting forward the bill after tens of thousands of people marched against it on Sunday. (Photo by Geovien So/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Police fire tear gas at protesters during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP) (Photo credit should read DALE DE LA REY/AFP/Getty Images)
A policeman shouts at protesters during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP) (Photo credit should read DALE DE LA REY/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters occupy a road as they attend a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP) (Photo credit should read DALE DE LA REY/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters run after police fired tear gas during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
Police fire non-lethal projectiles during violent clashes against protesters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester throws back a tear gas during clashes with police outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Protesters leave the area after police fired tear gas during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP) (Photo credit should read DALE DE LA REY/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester throws back a tear gas during clashes with police outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters in masks and goggles chant slogans outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Hong Kong authorities delayed the second reading of a controversial bill allowing extradition to mainland China as tens of thousands of protesters blockaded government headquarters. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo credit should read PHILIP FONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Police rest on a street as protesters (not pictured) attend a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Tens of thousands of protesters paralysed central Hong Kong, blocking major roads in a defiant show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. By late morning, with crowds continuing to swell, officials in the Legislative Council (Legco) said they would delay the second reading of the bill "to a later date". (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP) (Photo credit should read DALE DE LA REY/AFP/Getty Images)
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China has repeatedly accused the U.S. and other Western countries of orchestrating the mass demonstrations.

A ministry statement earlier Thursday repeated heated condemnations of the laws and said China would take unspecified “countermeasures.” It said all people of Hong Kong and China oppose Washington’s move.

It’s unclear how China will respond exactly, and whether Trump’s decision might disrupt negotiations with Beijing aimed at easing trade tensions.

Asked Thursday if the U.S. legislation would affect trade talks with Washington, a Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman said he had no new information to share.

Trump earlier expressed concern about whether the legislation might complicate efforts to work out a trade deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Recently both sides expressed confidence they were making headway on a preliminary agreement to avert a further escalation in a tariff war that has hammered manufacturers in both nations.

“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said in a statement. “They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all.”

Echoing Beijing’s complaints over foreign interference, C.Y. Leung, a former chief executive of Hong Kong, said Thursday that he doubted the U.S. or supporters of the bills in Hong Kong “ever had the interest of Hong Kong in mind.”

He suggested Hong Kong was a “proxy” for China for the U.S. in hitting back against Beijing.

Leung, who struggled to quell weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 during his own term in office, withheld comment on how well current Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has handled the crisis.

But he suggested the protests would leave Hong Kong with fewer rather than more freedoms.

“The forces in Hong Kong, I will call them bad forces in Hong Kong, want to force Beijing's hands,” Leung said in a talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. “These are not negotiators. They do not want a negotiated outcome. And often paint themselves into a corner. And they paint Hong Kong into a corner.”

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