Donald Trump signs sanctions bill to 'hold China accountable'

US President ends Hong Kong's preferential trade status

(FILES) This file photo taken on November 9, 2017 shows US President Donald Trump (L) and China's President Xi Jinping attending a business leaders event inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.  From remote Himalayan valleys to small tropical islands and tense Western capitals, an increasingly assertive China is taking on conflicts around the world like never before as the United States retreats.

US President Donald Trump heightened tension with China on Tuesday by signing legislation that allows the US to retaliate against China, for its actions in Hong Kong, with sanctions.

"Today I signed legislation and an executive order to hold China accountable for its oppressive actions against the people of Hong Kong," Mr Trump said.

The Hong Kong Autonomy Act is in response to Beijing forcing the National Security Law through Hong Kong's legislature.

Hong Kong is expected to operate as a semi-autonomous part of China, with its own legal and economic system.

The order gives the Trump administration "powerful new tools to hold responsible the individuals and entities involved in extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom", Mr Trump said.

"No administration has been tougher on China," he claimed.

The Beijing-backed National Security Law criminalises many forms of dissent, including banners or posters that advocate for independence from China.

TOPSHOT - Protesters hold up blank papers during a demonstration in a mall in Hong Kong on July 6, 2020, in response to a new national security law introduced in the city which makes political views, slogans and signs advocating Hong Kong’s independence or liberation illegal. Hong Kongers are finding creative ways to voice dissent after Beijing blanketed the city in a new security law and police began making arrests for people displaying now forbidden political slogans. / AFP / ISAAC LAWRENCE

A second order signed by Mr Trump ends Hong Kong's preferential trade status with the US.

"Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China – no special privileges, no special economic treatment and no export of sensitive technologies."

Under the US-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, Washington treats Hong Kong differently to the Chinese mainland in trade, commerce and other areas.

Mr Trump also said the US left the "Chinese-dominated" World Health Organisation because he opposed the US financially contributing more than China to the UN agency.

But he said he was open to the possibility of rejoining “when it’s correctly run” and not a “puppet of China".

Mr Trump said the US held China "fully responsible for concealing the virus and unleashing it on the world."

The US president also used the Rose Garden address to slam his opponent in the November presidential election, Joe Biden.

Mr Trump called Mr Biden a socialist and revived allegations against Mr Biden’s son, Hunter.

“He never did anything except make very bad decisions,” the president said of Mr Biden. Among other things, he criticised Biden’s support of the Paris Climate Accord, signed by the Obama administration, as a “gift to China” from the former vice president.

“It was unbelievably expensive to our country,” Mr Trump said. “It would’ve crushed American manufacturers while allowing China to pollute the atmosphere with impunity. Yet one more gift from Biden to the Chinese Communist Party. His entire career has been a gift to Chinese Communist party,” he said.

President Trump and former vice president Biden have sparred over China repeatedly since Mr Biden secured the nomination, with each saying the other had been weak in countering President Xi Jinping.