China furious as Trump signs bill on Hong Kong rights

New measures require periodic reports on rights and apply sanctions on officials perceived to breach them

China has reacted furiously to President Donald Trump signing two bills on Hong Kong human rights and said the US will bear the unspecified consequences.

A foreign ministry statement on Thursday repeated heated condemnations of the laws and said China will counteract. It said all the people of Hong Kong and China oppose the move.

It’s still unclear, however, how China will respond exactly.

Chinese vice foreign minister Le Yucheng lodged a "strong protest" with US Ambassador Terry Branstad, with the ministry saying that he “stressed that China strongly urges the US side to correct mistakes and change course."

Mr Le also urged the United States to "refrain from putting the bill into practice, and immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs, so as to avoid further damage to China-US relations and bilateral cooperation in important areas".

Mr Trump signed the bills, which were approved by near-unanimous consent in the House and Senate, even as he expressed some concerns about complicating the effort to work out a trade deal with China’s President Xi Jinping.

“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong,” Mr Trump said. “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.”

Congress approved the bills last week following months of unrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. Before Wednesday’s signing announcement, Mr Trump would only commit to giving the measures a “hard look.”

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act requires the US president to annually review the city's favourable trade status and threatens to revoke it if the semi-autonomous territory's freedoms are quashed. It also mandates sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses.

Mr Trump also signed legislation banning sales of tear gas, rubber bullets and other equipment used by Hong Kong security forces in putting down the protests.

China’s foreign ministry called the laws a “naked hegemonic action” that seriously interfered in Hong Kong and China’s internal affairs, violated international law and “fundamental norms of international relations.”

“The US side ignored facts, turned black to white and blatantly gave encouragement to violent criminals who smashed and burned, harmed innocent city residents, trampled on the rule of law and endangered social order,” the statement said.

The laws’ basic intent is to undermine Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability along with the “historical progress of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

It called the measures “extremely evil in nature and dangerous in motive.”

“We advise the US not to act incautiously, otherwise China will be required to counteract resolutely and all the consequences created by this will have to be borne by the U.S. side,” the statement said.

The two countries are currently locked in a trade war and have deep differences over China’s claims to the South China Sea and Taiwan, human rights issues and accusations of Chinese industrial espionage.

Mr Trump acknowledged last week that he was weighing the ramifications of signing the bill.

"Look, we have to stand with Hong Kong," Mr Trump said in an interview on Fox & Friends. "But I'm also standing with President Xi. He's a friend of mine. He's an incredible guy."

Activists hailed Mr Trump’s action.

“I know that many people in Hong Kong are happy that the US government has passed a new bill,” said Figo Chan, a 23-year-old Hong Kong protester who was honoured with the John McCain Prize for Leadership at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada last weekend.

“No one wants to die and no one wants to be hurt,” Mr Chan said. “I hope that citizens of many different countries can in their own way fight for democracy.”