ON THE WEB, 29 May 2020
The United States and Britain on Friday defied China’s anger by raising Hong Kong’s autonomy at the UN Security Council as President Donald Trump prepared new measures against Beijing.
Western criticism of China has escalated after it moved ahead this week on a security law that many Hong Kongers fear would kill off the freedoms which Beijing promised before Britain handed over the territory in 1997.
China is one of five powers to wield a veto at the Security Council, making any formal meeting, let alone action, on Hong Kong impossible.
But the United States and Britain said they were raising Hong Kong during an informal, closed-door videoconference where Beijing cannot block agenda items.
The meeting opened Friday with all Security Council members present, diplomats said.
Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said the United States and Britain wanted “emergency discussion” on the security law.
“The free world must stand with the people of Hong Kong,” she wrote on Twitter.
China denounces manipulation
China has denounced the move as interference, saying that the Hong Kong law was outside the mandate of the Security Council.
“We urge the US to immediately stop this senseless political manipulation,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in Beijing, saying China would not allow the US to “kidnap the Council for its own purposes.”
Dmitry Polyanskiy, the deputy UN ambassador of China’s ally Russia, called the discussion a “mere provocation” and “abuse” of the Council, which is tasked with maintaining international peace and security.
“We never discuss internal matters of member-states,” he wrote on Twitter.
“It’s like opening a Pandora box and could make damage for the US itself,” he said, adding: “Our colleagues surely understand this.”
A diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was debate among Security Council members on whether Hong Kong in fact constitutes an issue of international peace and security.
“Some will say it is, others will say it’s not. So there is a debate on this one, like on other issues,” the diplomat said.
Trump plans action
Trump is set to speak later Friday on new US measures against China as tensions rise between the two countries on a host of fronts.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday certified that Hong Kong no longer enjoys autonomy that warrants its separate treatment under US law.
With elections approaching, Trump has also sought to cast China as the cause for the devastation of the COVID-19 virus, news of which was initially suppressed when the illness was first detected in Wuhan late last year.
Pompeo, in an interview late Thursday, hinted that Trump may take action against Chinese students in the United States.
Chinese graduate students who have links to the government in Beijing “shouldn’t be here in our schools spying,” Pompeo told Fox News.
“We know we have this challenge. President Trump, I am confident, is going to take that on,” Pompeo said, without confirming an announcement would come Friday.
He was responding to a report in The New York Times that the Trump administration was considering annulling the visas of thousands of Chinese graduate students seen as having links with the military.
The move would be certain to draw criticism not only from China but from universities, which rely increasingly on tuition from foreign students and have already been hit hard by the COVID-19 shutdown.
China has been the top source of foreign students to the United States for the past decade with nearly 370,000 Chinese at US universities, including at the undergraduate level, in the 2018/2019 academic year, according to a trade group.
Asian-American activists have long voiced concern that the targeting of Chinese students impacts their own community, with US citizens of Asian ancestry coming under unjustified suspicion.
Critics say Trump has been eager to fan anger at China over COVID-19 to deflect attention from his own handling of the pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people in the United States, the highest death toll of any country.