IN A TOUGHLY-WORDED statement on May 28 that vented his indignation and pique towards China, US President Donald Trump said his administration would:
- start the process of revoking the preferential trade status the United States affords to Hong Kong and will take steps to sanction relevant Chinese officials involved the implementation of a national security law on Hong Kong;
- instruct US financial regulators to examine how US investment in Chinese firms listed on US stock markets could be limited or proscribed;
- immediately halt the issuance of visas to Chinese graduate and post-graduate students and researchers deemed to be national security threats to the United States because of links to any entity that has a connection with the People’s Liberation Army;
- consider revoking the visas of such student and researchers already in the United States; and
- terminate its support for the World Health Organization, saying Beijing had manipulated the agency during the coronavirus pandemic.
The measures did not include US withdrawal from Phase One of the US-China trade deal signed in January or the imposition of any tariffs beyond those that will be a consequence of removing Hong Kong’s preferential trade status once that is done.
None of the measures proposed will deflect Beijing from continuing to foreshorten the 50 years of One Country, Two Systems and turn Hong Kong into just another Chinese city. They are mostly less severe than the rhetoric in which they were wrapped up.
The one with the most potential long-term impact is excluding Chinese graduate and post-graduate students from access to US technological research, though that is a double-edged sword for Washington in as much as it will likely spur China’s attempts to develop its own technology while also denying the United States access to Chinese academic talent.
However, on the whole, even if the US president’s remarks move the two countries closer to a ‘new Cold War’, his actions will only convince Beijing that on its red-line issues it can increasingly act with impunity.