US trade sanctions on HK violate WTO rules, says China

Gao Feng says violating WTO rules will not be in US’ interest. (AP pic)

BEIJING: Washington’s decision to strip Hong Kong of its special trading status violates rules of the World Trade Organization, China said Thursday.

President Donald Trump announced Friday that the US will revoke special trading privileges granted to Hong Kong after Beijing moved to tighten its grip on the semi-autonomous city with plans to impose a national security law.

Removing the special status would affect a bilateral extradition treaty, commercial relations and export controls between the US and the Asian financial hub.

The move adds to growing friction between the world’s two biggest economies amid the coronavirus crisis and in the wake of a two-year trade war that has not been fully resolved.

Commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng said the special trading status given to the former British colony was recognised by all WTO members and did not depend solely on the US.

“If the US disregards the fundamental principles of international relations and adopts unilateral measures according to its domestic laws, it will violate WTO rules and will not be in the interest of the US,” he said at a regular press briefing.

The planned national security law comes in the wake of months-long protests in Hong Kong against Beijing’s attempts to erode personal freedoms.

Beijing says the law is needed to tackle “terrorism” and “separatism” and criminalises acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong.

But critics fear it will bring political oppression to a city supposedly guaranteed freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after its 1997 handover to China by Britain.

Gao said the national security law will not undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“It will not harm the legitimate interests of foreign investors,” he added.

Trump has provided few details on a timetable for scrapping Hong Kong’s special trading status.