Presidential contender Joe Biden on Wednesday blamed a “weak” Donald Trump for China’s clampdown in Hong Kong, vowing a tougher stance on human rights if he wins the White House.
“It’s no wonder Beijing is acting with impunity. Time and again, President Trump has surrendered our values and reassured China’s autocrats they have a like-minded partner in the White House,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said in a statement.
“Where Trump has been weak, I will be strong, clear and consistent in standing up for our values,” he said.
“Beijing’s new national security law - enacted in secret and sweeping in scope - is already dealing a death blow to the freedoms and autonomy that set Hong Kong apart from the rest of China,” Mr. Biden said in a statement provided to Reuters .
The Democratic presidential nominee said he would “prohibit U.S. companies from abetting repression and supporting the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state” and “impose swift economic sanctions” if Beijing “tries to silence U.S. citizens, companies, and institutions for exercising their First Amendment rights.”
He also vowed to “take stronger steps to prevent imports from forced labour” in Xinjiang, the Chinese region where the United Nations estimates more than a million Muslims have been detained in camps.
China denies mistreatment of people in Xinjiang, while authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the new national security legislation is aimed at a few ”troublemakers” and will not affect rights and freedoms, nor investors’ interests.
Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged President Donald Trump to do more under a 2019 law that lays out sanctions against officials who infringe on the freedoms promised to Hong Kong.
“We must consider all tools available, including visa limitations and economic penalties,” Ms. Pelosi, a longtime advocate for human rights in China, said in a rare appearance at a congressional hearing.
“If we refuse to speak out on human rights in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out for human rights any place in the world,” she said.
Representative Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, also called on the administration to take further steps.
But Representative Brad Sherman, a Democrat, said that Mr. Trump “squandered months” by not speaking out more forcefully on Hong Kong as he prioritized a trade deal with China.
“Hong Kong has been on the backburner in an effort to sell soybeans and we haven’t even sold the soybeans,” he said.
China on Tuesday imposed a long-threatened security law in Hong Kong that criminalizes “subversion” and other acts of dissent in a city to which it had promised separate freedoms.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong police cracked down on protesters marking the anniversary of the city’s 1997 handover from Britain, arresting about 370 people -- including 10 under the new law.
The Trump administration has taken a series of actions in response to China’s moves on Hong Kong, including restricting visas to an unspecified number of officials and blocking high-tech exports to the financial hub.
But Mr. Trump publicly hesitated last year at signing into law a bill that would authorize sanctions, which came just as he was seeking to finalize a trade deal with President Xi Jinping.
John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security advisor, writes in an explosive new book that Mr. Trump explicitly asked Xi to help his re-election campaign through buying farm produce.
Mr. Biden’s hard-hitting response came after Mr. Trump has tried to link his rival to Beijing, pointing to his extensive interactions with China as Barack Obama’s vice president.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday hinted Wednesday that the administration will do more to punish China -- by reducing the special privileges of Hong Kong.
Mr. Trump “wants to ensure, with a handful of exceptions, that Hong Kong is treated just like mainland China because that’s the way that General Secretary Xi has chosen to treat that place as well,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters.
The U.S. Senate last week passed a bill that would impose “mandatory” sanctions over infringements on Hong Kong’s autonomy -- including on banks that deal with Chinese officials and the Hong Kong police.
Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat who helped lead the new bill, urged Ms. Pelosi to schedule a vote on the proposal “immediately” in the House of Representatives.