WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed legislation and an executive order that he said will hold China accountable for its oppressive actions against the people of Hong Kong, then quickly shifted his speech in the Rose Garden into a campaign rally-style broadside against Democratic rival Joe Biden.
The legislation and order are part of the Trump administration’s offensive against China for what he calls unfair treatment by the rising Asian superpower, which hid details about the human-to-human transition of the cornoavirus. The almost daily administration broadsides against China come as Trump is defending his response to the virus, despite a surge in COVID-19 cases, in the United States and as he works to portray Biden, his expected presidential challenger, as weak on China.
“So Joe Biden and President Obama freely allowed China to pillage our factories, plunder our communities and steal our most precious secrets,” Trump said, adding, “I’ve stopped it largely.”
Trump added: “As vice president, Biden was a leading advocate of the Paris Climate accord, which was unbelievably expensive to our country. It would have crushed American manufacturers while allowing China to pollute the atmosphere with impunity, yet one more gift from Biden to the Chinese Communist Party.”
Trump didn’t limit his criticism of Biden to China. He delivered broadside after broadside against Biden on issues from energy to the economy, education to immigration. Aides have pushed the president to go more negative on Biden, whom Trump has largely spared from attacks — save for the “Sleepy Joe” nickname. Trump has gone after Biden far less aggressively than he did against his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Trump, once more, talked up his own tough approach to Beijing, though he spent the early weeks of the pandemic praising Chinese President Xi Jinping, in hopes of securing a new trade deal. But since the two nations signed phase one of a deal, the talks have stalled with virtually no hope of restarting before the November election.
The legislation Trump signed into law targets police units that have cracked down on Hong Kong protesters as well as Chinese Communist Party officials responsible for imposing a new, strict national security law widely seen as chipping away at Hong Kong’s autonomy. The mandatory sanctions are also required to be imposed on banks that conduct business with the officials.
Lawmakers from both parties have urged Trump to take strong action in response to China’s new national security law that erodes the “one country, two systems” framework under which Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997. Hong Kong is considered a special administrative region within China and has its own governing and economic systems.
“This law gives my administration powerful new tools to hold responsible the individuals and the entities involved in extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom,” Trump said. “Their freedom has been taken away. Their rights have been taken away, and with it goes Hong Kong in my opinion because it will no longer be able to compete with free markets. A lot of people will be leaving Hong Kong, I suspect.”
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.
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