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Trump steps up anti-China rhetoric threatening 'very strong' response if Hong Kong law passes

03:20 22 May 2020 Author :  

Donald Trump warned China that the US would respond "very strongly" if Beijing imposed tighter control over Hong Kong, as tensions rise between the two countries amid fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

China's government announced that national security legislation for Hong Kong will be proposed at its annual ‘rubber stamp’ parliamentary sessions, which opened yesterday, in the latest sign from Beijing plans to crack down on pro-democracy protests in the semi-autonomous territory.

"If it happens, we'll address that very strongly," Mr Trump said as he took questions from the White House on Thursday.

Mr Trump has stepped up his attacks on China over the coronavirus pandemic in recent days, appearing to directly blame Chinese president Xi Jinping for a campaign of "disinformation" that helped spread Covid-19 around the world.

In a rare shot at his Chinese counterpart, the US president tweeted on Wednesday night: "It all comes from the top. They could have easily stopped the plague, but they didn’t!”

Mr Trump's comments came as a study suggested that around 36,000 fewer Americans would have died from the pandemic if the US had imposed social distancing measures just one week earlier than it did in mid-March.

According to the estimates from disease modellers at Columbia University in New York, if the US had introduced lockdowns two weeks earlier, on March 1, as many as 54,000 lives could have been saved by May 3. To date more than 93,000 Americans have died from the virus, far outstripping any other country.

Mr Trump branded the study a "political hit job" from a "liberal" institution. Discussing the action he took, he said: "I was so early, I was earlier than anybody thought. I put a ban on people coming in from China."

But in early March, Mr Trump was still reassuring the public that they could go about their daily life safely, tweeting: “Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

The White House spokesperson Judd Deere, issued a statement hitting back against the Columbia University findings, saying: “What would have saved lives is if China had been transparent and the World Health Organization had fulfilled its mission”.

Mr Trump also lashed out earlier on Wednesday, saying, “It was the 'incompetence of China', and nothing else, that did this mass Worldwide killing.”

In the early days of the pandemic Mr Trump was careful to maintain his relationship with Mr Xi, even singling the Chinese leader out for praise. However as criticism of Mr Trump's handling of the crisis mounts at home, the president has accused China of covering up the scale of the initial outbreak and failing to prevent its spread, signalling he intends to make an anti-China approach a centerpiece of his November re-election bid.

The White House on Wednesday night also issued a broad-scale attack on Beijing's predatory economic policies, military buildup, disinformation campaigns and human rights violations.

China again threatened “countermeasures” in response as Beijing opened its parliamentary session after a delay of nearly three months due to the pandemic.

The week-long event – heavy on political spectacle and light on actual legislating – is largely aimed at shoring up Mr Xi’s power as leader of the Communist Party following the mass protests which have rocked Hong Kong and the coronavirus outbreak. It is also Mr Xi's first opportunity to lay out policy plans, reprioritise sidelined goals, and outline a growth roadmap.

Pro-democracy activists fear Beijing will ram a new law through after a previous effort in 2003 to pass the contentious bill in Hong Kong failed after mass protests.

China also attacked the US for its "dangerous" decision to congratulate Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen on the start of her second term in office./The telegraph

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