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US considering additional actions against China on Hong Kong security law, COVID-19

US considering additional actions against China on Hong Kong security law, COVID-19
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White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien. (Photo | AP)

Highlights

Relations between Washington and Beijing have spiralled downward since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Washington: The United States is preparing to take additional actions against China, the White House has said, but what those presidential measures would be was not made clear.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have spiralled downward since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

US President Donald Trump has questioned the Asian powerhouse's handing of COVID-19.

The two countries have also sparred over China imposing a new national security law in Hong Kong, restrictions on American journalists, treatment of Uyghurs Muslims and security measures in Tibet.

"I'm not going to get ahead of the president on what our actions on China will be, but you will be hearing about some upcoming actions that pertain to China. So, I can confirm that" White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Wednesday.

McEnany was responding to a question on recent statements made by top administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff, National Security Advisor and Secretary of States, hinting the president could take additional measures against China in the coming days.

US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien on Wednesday had told reporters that China had annexed Hong Kong, referring to the new security law in the former British colony.

"I think you're going to see a significant rollout of measures with respect to China over the coming days and weeks. There's no president that's ever stood up to China the way President Donald Trump has. He was the first president to put a massive tariff on the Chinese to stop the trade imbalance," he said.

O'Brien said that he gave a speech in Arizona two weeks ago on the Communist Party of China and the threat that it poses to the United States.

FBI Director Christopher Wray gave a speech a day earlier about the massive theft of Chinese intellectual property.

Referring to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's comments made last week, O'Brien said the president is looking very closely at TikTok, WeChat and some of other applications that the Chinese government is allegedly using to obtain personal and private data of Americans.

"We are looking very closely at the apps," O'Brien said, adding the president has already said that Hong Kong will no longer be treated as a separate entity, that it will be treated as part of China.

"So there will be a number of regulations and a number of actions that take place to implement the president's vision," he said.

He described the Chinese actions on Hong Kong as one of the biggest stories of the decade.

"We have Hong Kong that's basically been annexed by the People's Republic of China, by the Communist Party of China, and they're imposing their will on free and democratic people and not only are they doing it in Hong Kong, but they're using this Hong Kong law to try and impose their will extra-territorially," he said.

"They'll use the law, but they also use their economic leverage. So, when the general manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted in support of the peaceful protestors in Hong Kong, the Chinese Communist Party said that they're not going to broadcast Rockets games in China, and they made the NBA kowtow to China because--simply because an American citizen supported free peaceful protests in Hong Kong," he said.

"So, what the Chinese Communist Party is doing isn't just in Hong Kong. It's affecting all of you. It's affecting how we operate in the United States and we can't let that happen," O'Brien told reporters.

In a tweet, Congressman Matt Gaetz said the US needs to be more resilient, diligent, and aware of the fact that China is an enemy.

"And we shouldn't be aiding the enemy by using the US dollar to prop up their companies and their operations in the United States," he said.

Meanwhile, a group of 14 US lawmakers have introduced a bill in the Congress which demands the government to identify, analyse, and combat alleged efforts made by the Chinese government to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic for nationalistic gains.

Introduced by Congressman Jared Golden and co-sponsored by 13 other Congressmen, the 'Preventing China from Exploiting COVID-19 Act' would mandate the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to investigate the ways in which the Chinese government intends to seize on the COVID-19 pandemic to promote its interests on the national stage and evaluate the risks to the United States.

It also asks the DNI to provide policymakers with information they need to address and counter Chinese actions, when necessary, and report its findings to the Congress.

"Since COVID-19 began, there is evidence that China is at work using the pandemic crisis against Americans through cyber-theft and the spread of misinformation," said Golden.

"We need to fully understand these threats and respond to them. We're introducing the 'Preventing China from Exploiting COVID-19 Act' to gather and analyse important intelligence our country needs to protect American people and businesses," Golden said.

The bill requires the DNI -- in coordination with the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Homeland Security -- to prepare an assessment of the different ways in which the Chinese government has exploited or could exploit the pandemic, which originated in China, in order to advance China's interests and to undermine the interests of the United States, its allies, and the rule-based international order.

The assessment must be provided to Congress within 90 days and posted in unclassified form on the DNI's website.

"As we fight to save American lives and rebuild our economy, no country should be allowed to exploit the pandemic for its own advantage, yet reports indicate that China has done exactly that," said Congressman Torres Small, a co-sponsor of the bill.

"This is a time when countries should be coming together to fight the spread of COVID-19, not exploiting breakdowns in supply chains or a shortage of critical equipment like masks, gloves and gowns in order to advance their own national security interests.

This is unacceptable, and the United States must be able to hold China accountable if it continues," he said.

Among others, the legislation requires the DNI to investigate, analyse, and report on the techniques used by the Chinese government to obstruct or retaliate against nations that have sought a full inquiry into China's role in the emergence and spread of COVID-19, and the Chinese government's motivations for such efforts.

It seeks investigation into the activities undertaken by the Chinese government, like cyber-theft, intended to acquire information and intellectual property related to COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines.

The bill also asks the DNI to probe the manner in which the Chinese government seeks to advance its foreign policy interests by providing economic aid or medical equipment to nations adversely affected by COVID-19, and the degree to which this aid makes recipient countries more likely to adopt positions favourable to China and detrimental to the United States.

The ways in which the Chinese government is using, or may be planning to use, the global disruption and distraction associated with COVID-19 as an opportunity to more aggressively pursue longstanding objectives, including with respect to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, and territorial disputes, is another subject being pointed out by the Congressmen.

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