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Mike Pompeo accuses China of stripping Hong Kong’s freedom and autonomy

The Trump administration said Wednesday that China has effectively stripped Hong Kong of its promised democratic freedoms and the city no longer deserves a raft of U.S. trade and investment privileges, fueling rising U.S.-Chinese tensions and throwing into question the island territory’s status as a global financial powerhouse. Acting on a 2019 law enacted by…

Mike Pompeo accuses China of stripping Hong Kong’s freedom and autonomy

The Trump administration said Wednesday that China has effectively stripped Hong Kong of its promised democratic freedoms and the city no longer deserves a raft of U.S. trade and investment privileges, fueling rising U.S.-Chinese tensions and throwing into question the island territory’s status as a global financial powerhouse.

Acting on a 2019 law enacted by Congress, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Wednesday that Hong Kong no longer has the autonomy and freedoms that Chinese authorities promised to tolerate when Britain handed control of the territory back to the mainland communist government in 1997.

Acting just days after China stunned the world by announcing plans to impose a strict “national security law” on Hong Kong, Mr. Pompeo said the Trump administration is determined to counter China’s push to crush democracy in the territory.

“The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong as they struggle against [China‘s] increasing denial of the autonomy that they were promised,” the secretary of state said.

But the determination is a double-edged sword that the Trump White House had been reluctant to use.

With the U.S. still weighing what sanctions to impose, some fear Hong Kong’s own people may bear the brunt of the U.S. decision, along with more than 1,300 U.S. firms with offices in the “special administrative region.”

The national security law came in the wake of months of powerful pro-democratic and anti-Beijing demonstrations on the streets of Hong Kong. Although restricted by the coronavirus lockdown, protesters were out again Wednesday to protest a new local law to criminalize criticism of the Chinese national anthem.

Hong Kong’s internal politics are another complication, with many in the business and financial communities wary of popular unrest and worried that provoking Beijing will jeopardize Hong Kong’s status as the country’s financial portal to the world.

Li Ka-shing, said to be the city’s richest resident, this week warned against overreacting to the next national security law.

“It is within each and every nation’s sovereign right to address its national security concerns,” the 91-year-old billionaire said in a text message sent by his representatives, Bloomberg reported. “We probably need not over-interpret it.”

State Department officials said Mr. Pompeo spoke by phone with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. The two men agreed “the international community must support the people of Hong Kong and respond to Beijing’s continued erosions of Hong Kong’s autonomy,” the department said in a statement.

Chinese leaders had been bracing for a U.S. response and made clear they would not tolerate “interference” in what they consider China’s internal affairs.

The “era of the U.S. intimidating China is over,” the state-controlled, nationalist Global Times wrote in an editorial Wednesday.

“The China-U.S. ‘battle’ over Hong Kong is on,” the editorial said. “The U.S. is free to play any cards in its hand. Hong Kong is under China’s sovereignty, and whatever act Washington passes is just wastepaper.”

Weighing options

U.S. officials added that the administration is still weighing targeted actions that could punish Beijing. Complicating the process is Mr. Trump’s hope to preserve his half-implemented “phase one” trade deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping, seen by Mr. Trump as a landmark achievement of his foreign trade agenda.

“There’s a long list of things the president could do,” Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell told reporters, adding that various possibilities, including “economic sanctions” and “visa restrictions,” are being prepared by advisers for Mr. Trump to consider.

“The president will determine exactly what steps the U.S. government takes,” Mr. Stilwell said.

The scope of action will depend on whether Beijing goes through with its newly announced national security law in Hong Kong — a move Chinese leaders are expected to make official Thursday.

Unease continued to mount, meanwhile, in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protests that last rocked the city nearly a year ago suddenly rearing their head anew this week even as coronavirus fears have dissuaded large crowds from gathering.

China’s hand-picked leader for Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, insisted Tuesday that the territory will still retain autonomy even if Beijing goes ahead with the security law, which would reportedly allow Chinese intelligence and security forces to be based inside the district for the first time.

But pro-democracy factions in Hong Kong say the law will pave the way for a violent crackdown on free speech. Trump administration officials have said the stationing of Chinese security forces within Hong Kong would sound a “death knell” for the global financial hub’s independence.

“While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself,” Mr. Pompeo said. “No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China.”

Mr. Pompeo was required to make the determination under the Hong Kong Policy Act that Congress passed in 2019 requiring the secretary of state to present U.S. lawmakers with an official annual assessment of Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“Hong Kong and its dynamic, enterprising and free people have flourished for decades as a bastion of liberty, and this decision gives me no pleasure,” Mr. Pompeo said.

The comments mark something of a reversal in tone by the Trump administration, which was criticized by some Republicans and Democrats on the Hill last year for not taking a more aggressive stand in support of the wider pro-democracy protest movement in Hong Kong.

Protests ripped through the territory last summer after Beijing attempted to put an extradition law in place in Hong Kong that critics said would put residents at risk of being sent to China, where they could face politically motivated trials.

Some saw the extradition law as an open threat by China — which has come under increasing economic strain from its trade war with Washington — to the autonomy of private banks and other businesses run from Hong Kong.

The fear was that the Chinese communist leadership sought to use the threat of extradition to coerce the heads of such firms into handing over assets, financial intelligence or other sensitive and proprietary information to state-controlled Chinese companies.

The extradition law was ultimately withdrawn in the face of widespread popular outrage in Hong Kong, as demonstrations last year took on wider, pro-democracy scope with demands for free elections in the territory.

Some protests have taken on a notably pro-American strain, with demonstrators waving U.S. flags and even singing “The Star- Spangled Banner.”

Chinese backlash

China has bristled in response. Mr. Xi ordered Chinese military forces to mass near the mainland’s border with Hong Kong last summer — a move that sparked fears of a crackdown akin to the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Chinese authorities also ramped up allegations that American officials were meddling in Hong Kong and fomenting the unrest to tarnish Beijing’s reputation against the backdrop of the U.S.-Chinese trade war.

Mr. Pompeo’s decision received widespread support on Capitol Hill from China’s many critics.

China “relentlessly undermines Hong Kongers’ freedoms and way of life and impinges on the autonomy they were promised,” said the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s ranking Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas.

The committee’s Democrat chairman, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, also expressed frustration with Chinese leaders, saying Hong Kong’s future “hangs in the balance.”

“The U.S. response to the Chinese government’s actions must be decisive, clear and taken to protect U.S. national interests and to support autonomy and democratic freedoms in Hong Kong provided under international law,” he said.

But Mr. Engel warned the administration against using Hong Kong as a “pawn” in a larger campaign against China and complained that Congress so far has been “kept out of the loop” on the White House’s next steps.

Congress added some new fuel to the bilateral fire Wednesday by approving a bipartisan bill to toughen the U.S. response to what critics say is a brutal Chinese crackdown on ethnic minorities. The House passed a bipartisan bill that would impose sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the mass surveillance and detention of Uighurs and other ethnic groups in the western Xianjiang region. The Senate has already approved the measure and Mr. Trump has said he would “strongly consider” signing it.

Some conservatives called Wednesday for harsh action directly against Beijing.

The Committee on the Present Danger-China — a hawkish advocacy group in Washington — called for U.S. sanctions and revoking Hong Kong’s “most favored nation” status as a U.S. trade partner.

But some warned the recent U.S.-China tensions were spinning dangerously out of control, economically, militarily and even in the clash over who best dealt with the global coronavirus pandemic.

“A situation like this — where a powerful rival threatens the liberties of a weak entity —should upset everyone with liberal sentiment,” said Benjamin H. Friedman, policy director at the Defense Priorities think tank. “But it is difficult to translate sympathy into useful remedies.”

“Eager to ‘do something’ when our conscience is provoked, but military means seem far too risky, we turn too easily to sanctions, a gesture of solidarity that rarely works,” he said in a statement. “Whether or not revoking Hong Kong’s special trading rights counts as sanctions, it would harm mostly the people it’s meant to help.”

⦁ Lauren Meier contributed to this report.

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Cyprus accuses Turkey of expanding ‘illegal drilling’ in East Med |NationalTribune.com

Cyprus has accused Turkey of extending “illegal drilling” in disputed Mediterranean waters but said it is ready to engage in dialogue with Ankara to resolve differences over exploration rights. On Tuesday, Turkey extended the operations of its Yavuz energy drill ship in the disputed area off Cyprus until October 12, in a move that could stir tension…

Cyprus accuses Turkey of expanding ‘illegal drilling’ in East Med |NationalTribune.com

Cyprus has accused Turkey of extending “illegal drilling” in disputed Mediterranean waters but said it is ready to engage in dialogue with Ankara to resolve differences over exploration rights.
On Tuesday, Turkey extended the operations of its Yavuz energy drill ship in the disputed area off Cyprus until October 12, in a move that could stir tension between the island’s Greek Cypriot government and Ankara.
“Yesterday, unfortunately a Turkish NAVTEX to expand illegal drilling by the Yavuz vessel was extended when at the same time, a series of initiatives are ongoing that seek an end to Ankara’s unlawful actions and de-escalation,” President Nicos Anastasiades said on Wednesday, after a meeting with European Council President Charles Michel in Nicosia.
Yavuz will be accompanied by three other Turkish ships, according to a Turkish maritime notice that added “all vessels are strongly advised not to enter” the area, Turkish broadcaster TRT reported. 
Anastasiades’s comments come a week ahead of a special summit of European Union leaders on September 24-25 to discuss how to resolve the crisis between Cyprus and Turkey.
Anastasiades said Turkey was continuing its provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean, adding Cyprus would enter dialogue – but not under threats.
Meanwhile, the European Commission’s president on Wednesday warned Turkey against trying to intimidate Greece and Cyprus.
In her annual State of the EU speech, Ursula von der Leyen said Ankara was a key partner doing important work hosting refugees but stressed “none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbours”.     
Turkey, Greece and Cyprus have been locked in a dispute over energy resources and maritime borders in the region, with Ankara infuriating the EU countries by sending research ships with naval escorts to work in contested waters.
There have been fears of conflict erupting and Cyprus is pressing the rest of the EU to impose fresh sanctions on Ankara over the drilling, a move Turkey has decried as lacking legal basis.
“Turkey is and will always be an important neighbour, but while we are close together on the map, the distance between us appears to be growing,” Von der Leyen told the European Parliament.
“Yes, Turkey is in a troubled neighbourhood. And yes, it is hosting millions of refugees, for which we support them with considerable funding. But none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbours.”     
Greece and Cyprus can count on Europe’s “full solidarity on protecting their legitimate sovereignty rights”, she added.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called for European “solidarity” on the issue and a renewed migrant crisis.
Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister,  said his country has been proposing to restart exploratory talks with Greece.
“Exploratory talks actually cover all disputed issues between Turkey and Greece … The previous government [in Greece] … didn’t want to actually restart. And this government also has not been willing to restart the exploratory talks, so we have to make an agreement,” he said. 
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Matt Gaetz accuses Liz Cheney of working against Donald Trump, calls for her to step down

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida on Tuesday accused House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney of trying to undermine President Trump and called for her to step down from GOP leadership. Liz Cheney has worked behind the scenes (and now in public) against @realDonaldTrump and his agenda.House Republicans deserve better as our Conference Chair. Liz Cheney…

Matt Gaetz accuses Liz Cheney of working against Donald Trump, calls for her to step down

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida on Tuesday accused House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney of trying to undermine President Trump and called for her to step down from GOP leadership.

Liz Cheney has worked behind the scenes (and now in public) against @realDonaldTrump and his agenda.House Republicans deserve better as our Conference Chair. Liz Cheney should step down or be removed. #MAGA
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) July 21, 2020

Ms. Cheney, Wyoming Republican, has had several public breaks with Mr. Trump over her tenure as the third highest-ranking House Republican.

During the course of the coronavirus pandemic, she’s countered his messaging on masks and lockdown policies in the country and increasingly questioned his foreign policy decisions, particularly regarding reports of Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers.

But she’s also been in the president’s corner on issues such as impeachment, and votes in line with his agenda nearly 97% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Mr. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., chimed in on Twitter comparing Ms. Cheney to Utah Sen. Mitt Romney — who often clashes with the president.

We already have one Mitt Romney, we don’t need another… we also don’t need the endless wars she advocates for. https://t.co/RDkJDA9UOZ
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 21, 2020

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Libya’s NOC accuses UAE of being behind oil blockade |NationalTribune.com

Since January, groups loyal to Haftar have been blocking the production and export of oil from the country’s most important fields and terminals [Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters] Libya’s National Oil Corp (NOC) has accused the United Arab Emirates of instructing eastern forces in Libya’s civil war to reimpose a blockade of oil exports after the departure…

Libya’s NOC accuses UAE of being behind oil blockade |NationalTribune.com

Since January, groups loyal to Haftar have been blocking the production and export of oil from the country’s most important fields and terminals [Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters]
Libya’s National Oil Corp (NOC) has accused the United Arab Emirates of instructing eastern forces in Libya’s civil war to reimpose a blockade of oil exports after the departure of the first tanker in six months.
The UAE, along with Russia and Egypt, supports the eastern-based self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) of renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, which on Saturday said the blockade would continue despite it having let a tanker loaded with oil from storage.
Libya, which sits atop Africa’s largest proven crude oil reserves, is torn between the rival powers of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and eastern-based Haftar.
“NOC has been informed that the instructions to shut down production were given to (the LNA) by the United Arab Emirates,” it said in a statement on Sunday, resuming force majeure on all oil exports.
There was no immediate comment on NOC’s accusation from either the LNA or the UAE.
Haftar has been on the back foot after Turkish support helped the GNA turn back his 14-month assault on the capital, Tripoli.

Libyan government gathers war crimes evidence against Haftar

After the GNA gained ground, NOC also tried to restart production at the Sharara oil field, but said this effort was quickly shut down and accused Russian mercenaries fighting alongside the LNA of deploying there.
On Friday the Vitol tanker Kriti Bastion docked and loaded at Es Sider port before sailing on Saturday, the first legal export of Libyan oil since the blockade was imposed in January.
The NOC said Russian and Syrian mercenaries fighting alongside the LNA now occupied Es Sider.
Under international agreements, only NOC can produce and export oil and revenues must flow into the Central Bank of Libya. Both those institutions are based in Tripoli, the seat of the GNA.
The LNA said on Saturday it would continue the blockade until a list of conditions were met, including channelling oil revenue into a new bank account based outside the country to then be distributed regionally.
On Sunday the United States’s Libya embassy said the resumption of the blockade came after “days of intense diplomatic activity” to let NOC resume output, and said it “regrets that foreign-backed efforts” had impeded this.

SOURCE:
News agencies

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