China suspends visits by US warships to Hong Kong, over US Bills that support protesters

Protestors hold U.S. flags during a gathering at the Edinburgh place in Hong Kong, November 28.
PHOTO: Reuters

BEIJING - China suspended United States military ships and aircraft visits to Hong Kong, and sanctioned American NGOs on Monday (Dec 2) in retaliation for the passage of two Bills backing pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

The financial hub has been rocked by nearly six months of increasingly violent unrest demanding greater autonomy, which Beijing has frequently blamed on foreign influence.

Last week, US President Donald Trump signed two Bills that back protesters in Hong Kong and threaten China with possible sanctions on human rights.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which the Senate and House passed, puts the special treatment that Hong Kong enjoys under US law under tighter scrutiny linked to the extent of Hong Kong's autonomy from Beijing.

The second Bill banned the export of crowd-control munitions, including tear gas, rubber bullets, stun guns and tasers, to the Hong Kong police force.

Following Mr Trump's signing into law the two Bills, China said it would take "firm counter measures" if the US continues to interfere in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has been mired in mass anti-government protests for months which started with opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition Bill that would send suspects to mainland China.

The movement has evolved into demands for greater autonomy from China as well as an independent inquiry into police use of force during protests.

The move came as the world’s two biggest economies have been striving to finalise a “phase one” deal in their protracted trade war.

“In response to the unreasonable behaviour of the US side, the Chinese government has decided to suspend reviewing the applications for US warships to go to Hong Kong for (rest and) recuperation as of today,” foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

China had already denied requests for two US Navy ships to dock in Hong Kong in August, without specifying a reason why.

Ms Hua said China would also apply sanctions to a number of US-based non-governmental organisations, although she did not give any specifics over the form sanctions would take.

Sanctions will apply to NGOs that had acted “badly” over the recent unrest in Hong Kong, she said, including the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House.

There was “already a large amount of facts and evidence that make it clear that these non-governmental organisations support anti-China” forces and “incite separatist activities for Hong Kong independence”, Ms Hua added.

She accused them of having “great responsibility for the chaotic situation in Hong Kong”.

The increasingly violent rallies have hammered the retail and tourism sectors, with mainland Chinese visitors abandoning the city in droves.

The city’s finance chief warned on Monday that Hong Kong is set to record its first budget deficit in 15 years.