Joe Biden blames a 'weak' Donald Trump for China's security crackdown in Hong Kong

US President Donald Trump said he hoped the coronavirus would disappear. Source: NYT

Presidential hopeful Joe Biden has hit out at US President Donald Trump over China's crackdown over Hong Kong, promising to strengthen human rights if he wins office.

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.

On Tuesday, China imposed a long-threatened security law in Hong Kong that criminalises "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.

Police and protesters during a Hong Kong rally on July the 1st
Police and protesters during a Hong Kong rally on July the 1st.

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 President Trump publicly hesitated last year at signing into law a bill that would authorise sanctions, which came just as he was seeking to finalise 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.

Representative Brad Sherman, a Democrat, told a congressional hearing that Trump "squandered months" by not speaking out more forcefully on Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong has been on the back burner in an effort to sell soybeans and we haven't even sold the soybeans," Sherman said.

Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton.
Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton.

Vowing action

Joe Biden's hard-hitting response came after Mr Trump tried to link his rival to Beijing, pointing to his extensive interactions with China as Barack Obama's vice president.

Mr Biden said that, if elected president, he would "fully enforce" laws on the rights of Hong Kong and Xinjiang, where China has detained some one million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims.

"And I'll impose swift economic sanctions if Beijing brings its censorship to our shores and tries to silence US citizens, companies, and institutions for exercising their First Amendment rights," Biden said.

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.

President 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 US 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 Speaker Nancy Pelosi to schedule a vote on the proposal "immediately" in the House of Representatives.

Ms Pelosi, who has long been vocal on human rights in China, has not scheduled a vote but said Wednesday that Trump should start by using "all tools available."

"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.

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