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China’s move to tighten control of Hong Kong prompts U.S. policy changes

The Trump administration says it is ending special treatment of Hong Kong in response to China’s new security legislation in the territory, as well as Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The policy change will also sanction Communist Party officials and affect some Chinese postgraduate students coming to the U.S. Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the details and what’s next.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Trump administration says that it is ending its special treatment for Hong Kong. That's in response to China's new security legislation in the territory, and Beijing's handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. Pro-democracy advocates said that China's crackdown tightens the country's grip on the semiautonomous city.

    The president denounced the new legislation this afternoon in the White House Rose Garden.

  • President Donald Trump:

    China has replaced its promised formula of one country, two systems, with a one country, one system.

    My announcement today will affect the full range of agreements we have with Hong Kong, from our extradition treaty, to our export controls, on dual-use technologies and more, with few exceptions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, for more on the president's announcement, I'm joined by our Nick Schifrin.

    So, Nick, tell us the significance of what the White House is announcing.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Judy, I talked to experts on China on both sides of the aisle, and they acknowledge that the president's rhetoric was aggressive, but not as aggressive as it could have been, and not with as many specifics as there could have been to respond to Beijing's fundamentally altering Hong Kong's freedoms.

    So, let's go through what the president announced. The first of four announcements was revoking Hong Kong's special status, as he says.

    What does that mean? That means visa-free travel. It means tariff-free trade. It means controls on exporting technology to Hong Kong.

    Number two, sanctioned senior Communist Party officials. Number three, blocking Chinese post-graduate students and researchers who have any connection to the Chinese military from entering the U.S., and possibly evicting post-grads who are already here with that same connection.

    And, number four, warning travelers to Hong Kong that they can basically be surveilled electronically by Beijing. And, as you said, in addition, the president withdraw from the World Health Organization and redirected the hundreds of millions dollars that the U.S. sends to the WHO to other organizations and countries.

    He said the WHO is controlled by Beijing and didn't do enough to sound the alarm about the coronavirus.

    But critics say this is terrible timing, during this pandemic, to do this.

    Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and chair of the Senate Health Committee, saying tonight: "I disagree."

    And also the American Medical Association saying, this announcement — quote — "makes finding a way out of this public health crisis dramatically more challenging."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Nick, with regard to China and what's been happening there, how far does all this go toward actually changing the status of Hong Kong?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That is the key question tonight, Judy.

    As I said, according to the China experts I'm talking to, the rhetoric was aggressive, but the question is, what are the actions? If the administration follows through, restricts travel, imposes tariff, that would be a fundamental shift in the status of Hong Kong.

    It would also accelerate a trend that's already begun to happen. Basically, Hong Kong becomes another Chinese city, and American businesses would have to make a decision of whether to stay and live under the Communist Party rules or leave the city.

    But the president didn't provide a time frame for that, nor did he provide a lot of specifics, only that he would start that process. And he also didn't do other options that some people had wanted him to do. He could have pulled out of the trade deal. He could have evicted more Chinese students who are in the U.S., and he could have sanctioned Chinese financial institutions.

    The experts I talk to say, it's a tough balancing act between saving China — saving Hong Kong's special status, but also punishing Beijing. And they say, this isn't enough to get Beijing to, for example, pull out of the trade deal, but it's also not going to stop Beijing from continuing to erode Hong Kong's freedoms, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nick Schifrin following this very complex story.

    Nick, we thank you.

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