China on Thursday accused the US of seeking to “destroy” Hong Kong and threatened Donald Trump, the US president, with retaliation if he chose to enact new laws supporting human rights in the global financial hub.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which mandates sanctions on mainland and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses, was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives and Senate this week.
The act requires an annual review of the favourable trade status the US grants Hong Kong. Alongside a separate bill prohibiting exports to the financial hub of non-lethal weapons including teargas, it needs a final signature from the president.
Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi claimed the bill “indulges violent criminals” that China blames for the spiraling violence during pro-democracy protests, charging that it aims to “muddle or even destroy Hong Kong”.
Geng Shuang, the foreign ministry spokesman added: “We urge the US to grasp the situation, stop its wrongdoing before it’s too late, prevent this act from becoming law (and) immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs.
If the US continues to make the wrong moves, China will be taking strong countermeasures for sure,” he said.
The pro-democracy movement, which began with opposition to a controversial extradition bill, has plunged the city into nearly six months of political chaos and taken a heavy toll on the local economy.
Millions of angry citizens have joined anti-government protests, some of which have been violent, in a wider demand for democratic elections and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.
This week the movement has focused on the campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which has been besieged by the authorities since brutal clashes between riot police and protesters at the weekend.
More than 1,000 have been arrested in connection with the siege, but several dozen remain on the university grounds, refusing to surrender and trying to find ways to escape the tight police cordon. Their anxious parents are waiting outside, pleading with the police to be allowed entry.
Earlier this week, some students abseiled to safety from a bridge, while others staged a failed attempt to flee through a sewer.
Those remaining inside are increasingly isolated and desperate, in the knowledge that they could face up to ten years on “rioting” charges if they leave voluntarily.
One tearful protester issued a video apology to his family on Thursday. “I really have no choice. I cannot leave,” he said.
The authorities have relentlessly pursued charges against members of the protest movement.
On Thursday, a 12-year-old boy became the youngest person to be convicted after he admitted to vandalising a police station and railway interchange in October.
His lawyer pleaded for leniency as the boy had acted on impulse and was remorseful. “He knows he made a serious mistake,” he said.
However, the magistrate reserved the option to impose a probation order and to place him in protective custody, leaving the child with a criminal record.