President Donald Trump launched a blistering attack on China Friday, naming misdeeds that range from espionage to the violation of Hong Kong’s freedoms, and announced a slew of retaliatory measures that will plunge US-China relations deeper into crisis.
“They’ve ripped off the United States like no one has ever done before,” Trump said of China, as he decried the way Beijing has “raided our factories” and “gutted” American industry, casting Beijing as a central foil he will run against in the remaining months of his re-election campaign.
Trump appeared in the Rose Garden at the end of a week when the US hit 100,000 deaths in the coronavirus pandemic and as massive protests roiled Minneapolis after the death in police custody an African American man, but mentioned neither, focusing instead on casting Beijing as an existential geopolitical threat.
Trump called out China for “espionage to steal our industrial secrets, of which there are many,” announced steps to protect American investors from Chinese financial practices, accused Beijing of “unlawfully claiming territory in the Pacific Ocean” and threatening freedom of navigation.
The President also blasted Beijing for passing a national security law that fundamentally undermines Hong Kong’s autonomy, announcing that going forward, the US will treat Hong Kong the way it treats the rest of China. Trump said the US will strip Hong Kong of the special policy measures on extradition, trade, travel and customs Washington had previously granted it.
Trump announced the US would pull out of the World Health Organization even as the global coronavirus pandemic continues to claim lives, claiming that China has “total control” over the WHO, an organization of 194 member states.
The President said the US would also take action on a number of other fronts as well, including barring “certain foreign nationals from China” from entering the US and sanctioning officials in China and Hong Kong for their direct or indirect role in “smothering” Hong Kong’s freedoms.
“US-China relations are in full crisis,” said Richard Fontaine, the CEO of the Center for a New American Security. “We’ve hit the floor and keep falling through it. Beijing will retaliate in response to the Hong Kong steps the administration takes, and then the ball will be back in the President’s court. Things will get worse — potentially much worse — before they get any better.”