Hong Kong court denies bail to first person charged under new law

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A Hong Kong court denied bail on Monday to the first person charged with inciting separatism and terrorism under the city’s new national security law after he carried a sign saying “Liberate Hong Kong” and drove his motorbike into police.

Tong Ying-kit, 23, was arrested after a video posted online showed him knocking over several officers at a demonstration last Wednesday, less than 24 hours after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on its freest city.

The city’s government has said the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”, connotes separatism or subversion under the new law, stoking concern over freedom of expression in the former British colony.

Tong, who was unable to appear in court on Friday as he was being treated in hospital for injuries sustained in the incident, appeared in court in a wheelchair.

In rejecting bail, Chief Magistrate So Wai-tak referred to Article 42 of the new law, which states that bail will not be granted if the judge has sufficient grounds to believe the defendant will continue to endanger national security.

The case was adjourned until Oct. 6 and Tong was remanded in custody.

Critics say the law – which punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison – is aimed at crushing dissent and a long-running campaign for greater democracy.

Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said it is aimed at a few “troublemakers” and will not affect the rights and freedoms that underpin the city’s role as a financial hub.

Also on Monday, prominent democracy activist Joshua Wong pleaded not guilty to inciting others to participate in an unlawful assembly during anti-government protests last year.

Fellow activist Agnes Chow pleaded guilty to a similar charge. Their case has been adjourned to Aug. 5.

Wong and Chow, who were both granted bail last year, led a pro-democracy group called Demosisto that they dissolved hours after Beijing passed the national security law.

The United States, Britain and others have denounced the new legislation, which critics say is the biggest step China has taken to tighten its grip over the city, despite a “one country, two systems” formula meant to preserve its freedoms.

(Reporting By Jessie Pang and Pak Yiu; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Facebook, Twitter suspend processing of government data requests in Hong Kong

By Katie Paul

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc have suspended processing government requests for user data in Hong Kong, they said on Monday, following China’s establishment of a new national security law for the semi-autonomous city.

Facebook, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, is “pausing” reviews for all of its services “pending further assessment of the National Security Law,” it said in a statement.

Twitter said it had suspended all information requests from Hong Kong authorities immediately after the law went into effect last week, citing “grave concerns” about its implications.

The companies did not specify whether the suspensions would also apply to government requests for removals of user-generated content from its services in Hong Kong.

Social networks often apply localized restrictions to posts that violate local laws but not their own rules for acceptable speech. Facebook restricted 394 such pieces of content in Hong Kong in the second half of 2019, up from eight restrictions in the first half of the year.

Tech companies have long operated freely in Hong Kong, a regional financial hub where internet access has been unaffected by restrictions imposed in mainland China, which blocks Google, Twitter and Facebook.

Last week, China’s parliament passed sweeping new national security legislation for the semi-autonomous city, setting the stage for the most radical changes to the former British colony’s way of life since it returned to Chinese rule 23 years ago.

Some Hong Kong residents said they were reviewing their previous posts on social media related to pro-democracy protests and the security law, and proactively deleting ones they thought would be viewed as sensitive.

The legislation pushed China further along a collision course with the United States, with which it is already in disputes over trade, the South China sea and the coronavirus.

(Reporting by Katie Paul in San Francisco and Akanksha Rana in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri and Richard Chang)

U.S. trade groups urge China to increase purchases of U.S. goods, services

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and over 40 trade associations on Monday urged top U.S. and Chinese officials to redouble efforts to implement a Phase 1 trade agreement signed by the world’s two largest economies in January despite pandemic-related strains.

In a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, the group said they were encouraged by the progress so far, but called for a significant increase in China’s purchases of U.S. goods and services.

The groups said combating the novel coronavirus pandemic and restoring global growth depended in part on successful implementation of the U.S.-China trade deal, which helped defuse a nearly 18-month trade war marked by tit-for-tat tariffs.

U.S.-China tensions have escalated in recent months over the origins of the coronavirus outbreak, as well as China’s passage of a new national security law that critics say will limit Hong Kong’s autonomy.

U.S. President Donald Trump had said that “decoupling” the two economies remains an option, and his trade adviser Peter Navarro jolted markets last month when he said the U.S.-China trade agreement was “over,” although he quickly backtracked.

Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on Monday the U.S. president was considering several executive orders targeting China and manufacturing, but gave no details.

The chamber and other U.S. industry groups urged both sides to accelerate implementation of the trade agreement, arguing that it would help both countries while paving the way for Phase 2 talks on other key issues such as subsidies, cyber security and digital trade.

“Amid increasing bilateral tensions across the relationship, working together to improve trade and grow commerce can provide important benefits to both economies and help to improve relations,” they wrote in the letter.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Franklin Paul and Richard Chang)

Trump weighs executive orders on China, manufacturing, immigration, aide says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is considering several executive orders targeting China, manufacturing and immigration, his chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters at the White House on Monday, though he offered few details.

“It’s dealing with a number of executive orders that may go all the way from dealing with some of the immigration issues that we have before us, to some of the manufacturing and jobs issues that are before us, and ultimately dealing with China, in what we need to do there in terms of resetting that balance,” Meadows said.

Since taking office in 2017, Trump has tried to rescind a program that shields from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants living in the United States illegally after entering as children – a group often called “Dreamers.”

The U.S. Supreme Court last month blocked Trump’s effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy put in place by former President Barack Obama, which protects roughly 649,000 immigrants from deportation.

Earlier on Fox News, Meadows said, “We’re going to look at a number of issues as it relates to prescription drug prices, and we’re going to get them done when Congress couldn’t get them done.”

It was not clear what any executive order on China or manufacturing would entail.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Catherine Evans and Nick Zieminski)

U.S. Navy carriers conduct South China Sea drills as Chinese ships watch

By Tim Kelly

TOKYO (Reuters) – Two U.S. Navy aircraft carriers are conducting exercises in the contested South China Sea within sight of Chinese naval vessels spotted near the flotilla, the commander of one of the carriers, the USS Nimitz, told Reuters on Monday.

“They have seen us and we have seen them,” Rear Admiral James Kirk said in a telephone interview from the Nimitz, which has been conducting flight drills in the waterway with the Seventh Fleet carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, that began on the U.S. Independence Day holiday of July 4.

The U.S. Navy has brought carriers together for such shows of force in the region in the past, but this year’s drill comes amid heightened tension as the United States criticizes China over its novel coronavirus response and accuses it of taking advantage of the pandemic to push territorial claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

China’s foreign ministry said the United States had deliberately sent its ships to the South China Sea to flex its muscles and accused it of trying to drive a wedge between countries in the region.

The Pentagon, when it announced the dual carrier exercise, said it wanted to “stand up for the right of all nations to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows”, describing its 100,000-ton ships and the 90 or so aircraft they each carry as a “symbol of resolve”.

About 12,000 sailors are on ships in the combined carrier strike groups.

China’s claims nine tenths of in the resource-rich South China Sea, through which some $3 trillion of trade passes a year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims.

China has built island bases atop atolls in the region but says its intentions are peaceful.

Contacts with Chinese ships had been without incident, Kirk said.

“We have the expectation that we will always have interactions that are professional and safe,” he said. “We are operating in some pretty congested waters, lots of maritime traffic of all sorts.”

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Exclusive: Hong Kong activists discuss ‘parliament-in-exile’ after China crackdown

By Natalie Thomas and Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – Hong Kong pro-democracy activists are discussing a plan to create an unofficial parliament-in-exile to keep the flame of democracy alive and send a message to China that freedom cannot be crushed, campaigner Simon Cheng told Reuters.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, was convulsed by months of often violent pro-democracy, anti-China protests last year against Chinese interference in its promised freedoms, the biggest political crisis for Beijing since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

Hong Kong police fired water cannon and tear gas and arrested more than 300 people on Wednesday as protesters took to the streets again in defiance of new, sweeping security legislation introduced by China to snuff out dissent.

The law pushes China’s freest city and one of the world’s most glittering financial hubs on to a more authoritarian path. China, which denies interfering in Hong Kong, has warned foreign powers not to meddle in its affairs.

Cheng, a Hong Kong citizen, worked for the British consulate in the territory for almost two years until he fled after he said he was beaten and tortured by China’s secret police. Cheng, who has since been granted asylum by Britain, describes himself as pro-democracy campaigner.

“A shadow parliament can send a very clear signal to Beijing and the Hong Kong authorities that democracy need not be at the mercy of Beijing,” he told Reuters in London. “We want to set up non-official civic groups that surely reflect the views of the Hong Kong people.”

He said that while the idea was still at an early stage, such a parliament-in-exile would support the people of Hong Kong and the pro-democracy movement there. He declined to say where the parliament might sit.

“We are developing an alternative way to fight for democracy,” Cheng said. “We need to be clever to deal with the expanding totalitarianism: they are showing more powerful muscle to suppress so we need to be more subtle and agile.”

He said more and more people were “losing hope that it is effective to go out on to the streets or run for election” to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, or mini-parliament.

“We should stand with the Hong Kong people and support those staying in Hong Kong,” he said.

‘VERY GOOD SIGNAL’

Asked about HSBC’s support for the sweeping national security law, Cheng said the British government should speak to senior British capitalists to make them understand the importance of democracy.

After Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered millions of Hong Kong residents the path to British citizenship following China’s imposition of the law, hundreds of thousands of people would come to the United Kingdom, Cheng said.

“The UK has given a very good signal,” Cheng said. “At least hundreds of thousands of people will come.”

Almost 3 million Hong Kong residents are eligible for the so called British National (Overseas) passport. There were 349,881 holders of the passports as of February, Britain said.

“One day we will be back in Hong Kong,” Cheng said.

Hong Kong returned to China 23 years ago with the guarantee of freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including its independent legal system and rights to gather and protest, under a “one country, two systems” formula.

Huge protests calling for democracy, especially on the anniversaries of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen crackdown, were common and brought major streets to a standstill for 79 days in the Umbrella movement of 2014.

The national security law punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, will see mainland security agencies in Hong Kong for the first time and allows extradition to the mainland for trial.

(Reporting by Natalie Thomas, editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Stephen Addison)

U.S. House bill targets banks amid fears over China law for Hong Kong

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday that would penalize banks doing business with Chinese officials who implement Beijing’s draconian new national security law imposed on the former British colony of Hong Kong.

China responded by saying the United States should stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and warned that it would “resolutely and forcefully resist”.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that protected its freedoms, including an independent legal system, and wide-ranging autonomy. But China on Tuesday introduced sweeping national security legislation for the city, condemned by the United States, Britain and other Western countries.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab reprimanded HSBC and other banks on Wednesday for supporting the new law, saying the rights of Hong Kong should not be sacrificed for bankers’ bonuses.

Senior British and U.S. politicians criticized HSBC and Standard Chartered last month after the banks backed the new law.

The law punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, will see mainland security agencies in Hong Kong for the first time and allows extradition to the mainland for trial.

The House measure passed unanimously, reflecting concern in Washington over the erosion the autonomy that allowed Hong Kong to thrive as China’s freest city and an international financial center.

The U.S. Senate passed similar legislation last week, but under congressional rules the bill must return to the Senate and be passed there before being sent to the White House for President Donald Trump to sign into law or veto.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made an unusual appearance at a committee hearing on the situation in Hong Kong to say the security law marked the death of the “one country, two systems” principle.

“The law is a brutal, sweeping crackdown against the people of Hong Kong, intended to destroy the freedoms they were promised,” she told the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in Beijing on Thursday the United States “must stop advancing the bill, let alone sign it or implement” it.

“Otherwise China will resolutely and forcefully resist,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the security law was an affront to all nations and Washington would continue to implement Trump’s directive to end the territory’s special status.

The United States has already begun eliminating Hong Kong’s special status, halting defense exports and restricting the territory’s access to high-technology products.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Huizhong Wu in Beijing; Editing by Sandra Maler, David Gregorio and Nick Macfie)

Taiwan practices ‘enemy annihilation’ after China steps up activity

FILE PHOTO: Members of the National Security Bureau take part in a drill next to a national flag at its headquarters in Taipei, Taiwan, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Pichi C

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s armed forces carried out live fire drills on its west coast on Thursday practicing “enemy annihilation on the shore,” ahead of its main annual exercises later this month and as China steps up military activities near the island it claims.

Taiwan has complained in recent months of repeated Chinese air force patrols near it, in some cases crossing into Taiwan-controlled airspace. In April, a Chinese naval flotilla led by the country’s first aircraft carrier passed near Taiwan.

China claims the democratic island as its own territory, and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control. Taiwan has shown no interest in being run by China.

The drills, in a coastal area facing the sensitive Taiwan Strait, simulated fending off an attempted landing by enemy forces, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said.

They involved Taiwan’s most modern fighter jet the F-16V, Apache attack helicopters, tanks and artillery, which fired live rounds, the ministry added, showing pictures of plumes of water in the sea where ordinance had hit their targets.

The drills were aimed at improving the military’s effectiveness at “enemy annihilation on the shore” and to “prevail along the coastline” to stop an enemy invasion, it said.

Taiwan later this month holds its main annual Han Kuang military exercise, which was postponed from earlier this year due to the new coronavirus.

Taiwan’s military is well-trained and well-equipped, mostly with U.S.-made weapons, and President Tsai Ing-wen has made boosting the island’s defenses a top priority since she first won office in 2016.

However Taiwan faces an increasingly formidable and far larger Chinese military, which has been undergoing its own modernization program, adding stealth fighters, aircraft carriers and anti-satellite missiles.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Giles Elgood)

U.S. warns firms of human rights abuse risks in China’s Xinjiang province

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday issued an advisory warning U.S. companies about the risks they face from maintaining supply chains associated with human rights abuses in China’s western Xinjiang province.

The advisory, issued by the U.S. State, Treasury, Commerce and Homeland Security departments, seeks to add more U.S. pressure on China at a time of heightened tensions over China’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang and Beijing’s new national security law for Hong Kong.

The advisory said that companies doing business in Xinjiang or with entities using Xinjiang labor face “reputational, economic, and legal risks” from human rights abuses, including forced labor, mass detention and forced sterilization.

“CEOs should read this notice closely and be aware of the reputational, economic and legal risks of supporting such assaults on human dignity,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday.

The action follows a U.S. Commerce Department move last month that added seven companies and two institutions to an economic blacklist for being “complicit in human rights violations and abuses committed in China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs” and others.

China’s foreign ministry said in May it deplored and firmly opposed U.S. sanctions over Xinjiang, calling it a purely internal affair for China.

(Reporting by David Lawder and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Chang)

China orders some American media to give details on staff, after U.S. move

BEIJING (Reuters) – China has asked four U.S. media organizations to submit details about their operations in the country, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday, in what it described as retaliation for U.S. measures against Chinese media outlets.

The Associated Press (AP), UPI, CBS and National Public Radio (NPR) are required to provide information about their staff, financial operations and real estate in China within seven days, ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news briefing.

“We urge the U.S. to immediately change course, correct its error, and desist (from) the political suppression and unreasonable restriction of Chinese media,” Zhao said.

The United States and China have been locked in a series of retaliatory actions involving journalists in recent months, amid increasing tensions over issues ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to Hong Kong.

Last month, the United States said it would start treating another four major Chinese state media outlets as foreign embassies, following similar measures taken by Washington earlier in the year.

That designation similarly required the outlets to report their personnel and real estate holdings.

In March, China expelled about a dozen U.S. journalists from the New York Times, the News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. At the time, it also asked those outlets, as well as broadcaster Voice of America and Time magazine, to provide details on their China operations.

That had followed Washington’s move to slash the number of journalists permitted to work in the United States for four major Chinese state-owned media outlets.

“NPR is in communication with the relevant authorities and we are studying the request,” said an NPR spokesperson.

The AP said in a statement that it was “seeking more information about the requirements announced today and will review them carefully”.

CBS and UPI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In May, Washington limited visas for Chinese reporters to a 90-day period, with the option for extension. Previously, such visas were typically open-ended.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Kim Coghill and Mark Heinrich)