China says US trade sanctions on Hong Kong violate WTO rules

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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.

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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 United States.

“If the United States 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 United States,” Gao added at a regular press briefing.

A spokesman of China’s banking regulator said separately that Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub will not be shaken by the potential sanctions.

“Hong Kong’s financial market is running smoothly... and there is no abnormal capital outflow”, said the spokesman, adding that this reflects the international market’s confidence in the city.

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

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Beijing says the law is needed to tackle “terrorism” and “separatism” and criminalizes 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.

Read more: Hong Kong protesters rally in support of China's ethnic Uighurs

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