China maintains tariffs must be reduced for phase one trade deal with U.S.

China maintains tariffs must be reduced for phase one trade deal with U.S.
BEIJING (Reuters) – Tariffs must be cut if China and the United States are to reach an interim agreement on trade, the Chinese commerce ministry said on Thursday, sticking to its stance that some U.S. tariffs must be rolled back for a phase one deal.

“The Chinese side believes that if the two sides reach a phase one deal, tariffs should be lowered accordingly,” ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters, adding that both sides were maintaining close communication.

Completion of a phase one deal between the world’s two biggest economies had been initially expected in November, ahead of a new round of U.S. tariffs set to kick in on Dec. 15, covering about $156 billion of Chinese imports.

Trade delegations on both sides remained locked in discussions over “core issues of concern,” with rising bilateral tensions over non-trade issues such as the protests in Hong Kong and Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority clouding prospects for a near-term deal to end a trade war.

China warned on Wednesday that U.S. legislation calling for a tougher response to Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang will affect bilateral cooperation.

But “there is no need to panic,” as talks did not stop, a Chinese source who advises Beijing on the trade talks told Reuters on Wednesday.

“Both leaders have talked about reaching a deal, and officials are now finishing the work,” said the source, who thought it unlikely China would retaliate against U.S. legislation by releasing its so-called “unreliable entities list” aimed at punishing firms deemed harmful to Chinese interests.

When asked if China would release the list this year, Gao said he had no further information to reveal at present.

Beijing may hold back from publishing the list until the trade situation with the United States is at its most tense, a Chinese government source told Reuters in October.

On Wednesday, Trump said trade talks with China were going “very well,” sounding more positive than his remarks the previous day that a deal might have to wait until after the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

On Nov. 7, Gao said China and the United States must simultaneously cancel some existing tariffs on each other’s goods for both sides to reach a phase one trade deal, but how much tariffs should be canceled could be negotiated.

On a telephone call last week, China’s lead trade negotiator Vice Premier Liu He discussed “core issues of concern” with U.S. Trade representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Washington imposed additional 15% tariffs on about $125 billion worth of Chinese goods on Sept. 1, on top of the additional 25% tariffs levied on an earlier $250 billion list of industrial and consumer goods.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Lighthizer recognize that rolling back tariffs for a pact that fails to tackle core intellectual property and technology transfer issues will not be seen as a good deal for the United States, a person briefed on the matter told Reuters late last month.

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Yawen Chen; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jacqueline Wong)

‘Nasty’, ‘two-faced’, ‘brain dead’: NATO pulls off summit despite insults

By Robin Emmott and Andreas Rinke

WATFORD, England (Reuters) – NATO leaders set aside public insults ranging from “delinquent” to “brain dead” on Wednesday, declaring at a 70th anniversary summit they would stand together against a common threat from Russia and prepare for China’s rise.

Officials insisted the summit was a success: notably, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan backed off from an apparent threat to block plans to defend northern and eastern Europe unless allies declared Kurdish fighters in Syria terrorists.

But the meeting began and ended in acrimony startling even for the era of U.S. President Donald Trump, who arrived declaring the French president “nasty” and left calling Canada’s prime minister “two-faced” for mocking him on a hot mic.

“We have been able to overcome our disagreements and continue to deliver on our core tasks to protect and defend each other,” NATO’s ever-optimistic Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference.

In a joint declaration, the leaders said: “Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security; terrorism in all its forms and manifestations remains a persistent threat to us all.”

The half-day summit at a golf resort on the outskirts of London was always going to be tricky, with officials hoping to avoid acrimony that burst forth at their meeting last year when Trump complained about allies failing to bear the burden of collective security.

But this year’s meeting was made even more difficult by Erdogan, who launched an incursion into Syria and bought Russian missiles against the objections of his allies, and by French President Emmanuel Macron, who had described the alliance’s strategy as brain dead in an interview last month.

In public it seemed to go worse than expected, beginning on Tuesday when Trump called Macron’s remarks “very, very nasty” and described allies who spend too little on defense as “delinquents” — a term officials said Trump used again on Wednesday behind closed doors during the summit itself.

At a Buckingham Palace reception on Tuesday evening, Canada’s Justin Trudeau was caught on camera with Macron, Britain’s Boris Johnson and Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, laughing at Trump’s long press appearances. “You just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” said Trudeau.

By the time the summit wound up on Wednesday, Trump had decided not to hold a final press conference, saying he had already said enough. “He’s two-faced,” Trump said of Trudeau.

HUAWEI SECURITY RISK

Nevertheless, officials said important decisions were reached, including an agreement to ensure the security of communications, including new 5G mobile phone networks. The United States wants allies to ban equipment from the world’s biggest telecoms gear maker, Chinese firm Huawei.

“I do think it’s a security risk, it’s a security danger,” Trump said in response to a question on Huawei, although the leaders’ declaration did not refer to the company by name.

“I spoke to Italy and they look like they are not going to go forward with that. I spoke to other countries, they are not going to go forward,” he said of contracts with Huawei.

Ahead of the summit, Johnson — the British host who faces an election next week and chose to avoid making any public appearances with Trump — appealed for unity.

“Clearly it is very important that the alliance stays together,” he said. “But there is far, far more that unites us than divides us.”

Macron held his ground over his earlier criticism of NATO’s strategy, saying as he arrived that it was important for leaders to discuss issues in an open and forthright manner if they were to find solutions.

“I think it’s our responsibility to raise differences that could be damaging and have a real strategic debate,” he said. “It has started, so I am satisfied.”

One of Macron’s chief complaints is that Turkey, a NATO member since 1952 and a critical ally in the Middle East, has increasingly acted unilaterally, launching its incursion in Syria and buying Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles.

In his comments to the press, Stoltenberg said that while Russia was a threat, NATO also wanted to ensure a constructive dialogue with it. He added, in a reference to Turkey, that the S-400 system was in no way compatible with NATO’s defense.

At the summit, Europe, Turkey and Canada pledged to spend an extra $400 billion on defense by 2024, responding to Trump’s accusations that they spend too little. Germany, a frequent target of Trump’s blandishments, has promised to spend 2% of national output by 2031.

France and Germany also won backing for a strategic review of NATO’s mission, with the alliance set to establish a “wise persons” group to study how the organization needs to reposition for the future. That could involve shifting its posture away from the East and toward threats in the Middle East and Africa.

(Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke, John Chalmers and Johnny Cotton in Watford, and Estelle Shirbon in London; Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by John Chalmers and Peter Graff)

China suspends U.S. military visits to Hong Kong, sanctions U.S.-based NGOs

BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Monday U.S. military ships and aircraft won’t be allowed to visit Hong Kong, and also announced sanctions against several U.S. non-government organizations for encouraging protesters to “engage in extremist, violent and criminal acts.”

The measures were announced by China’s Foreign Ministry in response to U.S. legislation passed last week supporting anti-government protesters. It said it had suspended taking requests for U.S. military visits indefinitely, and warned of further action to come.

“We urge the U.S. to correct the mistakes and stop interfering in our internal affairs. China will take further steps if necessary to uphold Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity and China’s sovereignty,” said ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily news briefing in Beijing.

China last week promised it would issue “firm counter measures” after U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act,” which supports anti-government protesters in Hong Kong and threatens China with potential sanctions.

There are fears that the row over Hong Kong could impact efforts by Beijing and Washington to reach preliminary deal that could de-escalate a prolonged trade war between the two countries.

The U.S.-headquartered NGOs targeted by Beijing include the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House.

“They shoulder some responsibility for the chaos in Hong Kong and they should be sanctioned and pay the price,” said Hua.

In more normal times, several U.S. naval ships visit Hong Kong annually, a rest-and-recreation tradition that dates back to the pre-1997 colonial era which Beijing allowed to continue after the handover from British to Chinese rule.

Visits have at times been refused amid broader tensions and two U.S. ships were denied access in August.

The USS Blue Ridge, the command ship of the Japanese-based Seventh Fleet, stopped in Hong Kong in April – the last ship to visit before mass protests broke out in June.

Foreign NGOs are already heavily restricted in China, and have previously received sharp rebukes for reporting on rights issues in the country including the mass detention of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell and Beijing Monitoring Desk; Editing by Tom Hogue & Simon Cameron-Moore)

China warns U.S. over Hong Kong law as thousands stage ‘Thanksgiving’ rally

China warns U.S. over Hong Kong law as thousands stage ‘Thanksgiving’ rally
By Jessie Pang and Cate Cadell

HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) – China warned the United States on Thursday that it would take “firm counter measures” in response to U.S. legislation backing anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, and said attempts to interfere in the Chinese-ruled city were doomed to fail.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed into law congressional legislation which supported the protesters, despite angry objections from Beijing, with which he is seeking a deal to end a damaging trade war.

Protesters in Hong Kong responded by staging a “Thanksgiving” rally, with thousands, some draped in U.S. flags, gathering in the heart of the city.

“The rationale for us having this rally is to show our gratitude and thank the U.S Congress and also President Trump for passing the bill,” said 23-year-old Sunny Cheung, a member of the student group that lobbied for the legislation.

“We are really grateful about that and we really appreciate the effort made by Americans who support Hong Kong, who stand with Hong Kong, who do not choose to side with Beijing,” he said, urging other countries to pass similar legislation.

The law requires the State Department to certify, at least annually, that Hong Kong is autonomous enough to justify favorable U.S. trading terms that have helped it become a world financial center.

It also threatens sanctions for human rights violations.

The Chinese foreign ministry said the United States would shoulder the consequences of China’s countermeasures if it continued to “act arbitrarily” in regards to Hong Kong.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad and demanded that Washington immediately stop interfering in China’s domestic affairs.

Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government said the legislation sent the wrong signal to demonstrators and “clearly interfered” with the city’s internal affairs.

China is considering barring the drafters of the legislation, whose U.S. Senate sponsor is Florida Republican Marco Rubio, from entering mainland China as well as Hong Kong and Macau, Hu Xijin, the editor of China’s Global Times tabloid, said on Twitter.

‘SINISTER INTENTIONS’

More than 5,800 people have been arrested since the unrest broke out in June over a proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China, the numbers grew in October and November as violence escalated.

Demonstrators are angry at police violence and what they see as Chinese meddling in freedoms promised to Hong Kong when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, such as an independent judiciary.

China says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula put in place at the handover, and blames foreign forces for fomenting the unrest, an allegation it repeated in response to the U.S. law.

“This so-called legislation will only strengthen the resolve of the Chinese people, including the Hong Kong people, and raise awareness of the sinister intentions and hegemonic nature of the U.S.,” the foreign ministry said. “The U.S. plot is doomed.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang declined to comment on any countermeasures planned by Beijing.

“You better stay tuned, and follow up on this,” he said. “What will come will come.”

Gao Feng, a spokesman for China’s commerce ministry, did not comment directly on whether the law would affect trade talks, saying there were no new details of their progress to disclose. Some analysts say any move to end Hong Kong’s special treatment could harm the United States, which has benefited from business-friendly conditions in the territory.

LULL IN VIOLENCE

Anti-government protests have roiled the former British colony for six months, at times forcing businesses, government, schools and even the international airport to close.

Hong Kong has enjoyed a rare lull in violence over the past week, with local elections on Sunday delivering a landslide victory to pro-democracy candidates.

Prominent activists Joshua Wong and Denise Ho addressed the rally on Thursday night, thanking frontline protesters for the passage of the bill. Crowds sang the protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong”, waving their phone torches.

Several hundred people also gathered outside the Polytechnic University, which police entered after a nearly two-week siege.

“The situation in Poly U is still a disaster,” said 30-year-old Ng, dressed in black and wearing a surgical mask. “We are out to show we will never forget the Poly U incident.”

The university became a battleground in mid-November, when protesters barricaded themselves in and clashed with riot police in a hail of petrol bombs, water cannon and tear gas. About 1,100 people were arrested last week.

It was unclear whether any protesters remained on campus as about 100 plainclothes police moved in on Thursday morning to collect evidence and remove dangerous items such as petrol bombs.

Police said they found more than 3,000 molotov cocktails and hundreds of bottles of corrosive liquids.

“The operation is going to finish today,” said Assistant Commissioner of Police (Operations) Chow Yat-ming.

He urged any remaining protesters to seek medical treatment, saying arrests were not a priority, though police were seen brushing molotov cocktails for fingerprints earlier in the day.

(Reporting by Jessie Pang, Twinnie Siu, Clare Jim, Kate Lamb and Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong and Catherine Cadell, Huizhong Wu, Stella Qiu and Judy Hua in Beijing; Writing by Farah Master, Se Young Lee, and Poppy McPherson; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Clarence Fernandez and Giles Elgood)

 

Pompeo says documents confirm China committing ‘very significant’ Xinjiang abuses

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Recently leaked documents confirm China is committing “very significant” human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and other minority groups in mass detention, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday.

An international group of journalists released classified Chinese government documents on Sunday that described repressive inner workings of detention camps in China’s troubled western region of Xinjiang.

“These reports are consistent with an overwhelming and growing body of evidence that the Chinese Communist Party is committing human rights violations and abuses against individuals in mass detention,” Pompeo told a news conference, calling on Beijing to release all those arbitrarily detained.

He said the information in the documents confirmed that “very significant” human rights abuses were taking place.

“It shows that it’s not random, that it is intentional and that it’s ongoing,” he said.

The publication of the documents by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) followed a Nov. 16 New York Times report based on a cache of secret papers revealing details of China’s clampdown on ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in the region.

United Nations experts and activists say at least 1 million Uighurs and members of other largely Muslim minority groups have been detained in camps in Xinjiang.

The ICIJ said it obtained a 2017 list of guidelines “that effectively serves as a manual for operating the camps,” with instructions on how to prevent escapes, maintain secrecy about the camps’ existence, indoctrinate internees and “when to let detainees see relatives or even use the toilet.”

Other documents it obtained include “intelligence briefings” showing how police have been “guided by a massive data collection and analysis system that uses artificial intelligence to select entire categories of Xinjiang residents for detention.”

Beijing denies any mistreatment of Uighurs or others in Xinjiang, saying it is providing vocational training to help stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism and to teach new skills. It dismissed the latest reports as slander.

The leaks have come amid a rising international outcry over China’s broader human rights record in Xinjiang. The United States has led more than 30 countries in condemning what it called a “horrific campaign of repression.”

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psaledakis; Writing by Susan Heavey; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S.-China trade deal close, White House says, after negotiators speak by phone

By Andrea Shalal, Doina Chiacu and Kevin Yao

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States and China are close to agreement on the first phase of a trade deal, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said on Tuesday, after top negotiators from the two countries spoke by telephone and agreed to keep working on remaining issues.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke with Chinese Vice Premier Liu on Tuesday morning, China’s Commerce Ministry said, as the world’s two largest economies try to hammer out a “phase one” deal in a 16-month trade war that is slowing global growth.

They discussed core issues related to the phase one deal, the ministry said.

Completion of a phase one deal had been expected in November, but trade experts and people close to the White House said last week it could slide into the new year, as Beijing presses for more extensive tariff rollbacks and Washington counters with its own demands.

Tuesday’s news lifted markets, with Wall Street’s three major indexes adding slightly to the previous days’ records. Reaching a trade agreement with China is one of U.S. President Donald Trump’s top priorities.

Conway told Fox News the United States and China were nearing agreement on the preliminary deal.

“We’re getting really close and that first phase is significant,” she said, adding that Trump wanted to “do this in phases, in interim pieces because it’s such a large, historic trade deal.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, told reporters on Tuesday, an initial trade deal with China could be reached before the end of the year.

He said China had invited Lighthizer and Mnuchnin to visit Beijing for in-person talks and they were willing to go if they saw “a real chance of getting a final agreement.”

The U.S. trade representative and the Treasury did not respond to requests for comment. A source familiar with the trade talks said the U.S. officials could go to Beijing after the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday.

In October, Trump said he expected to quickly dive into a second phase of talks once “phase one” had been completed, focusing on U.S. complaints that China effectively steals U.S. intellectual property by forcing U.S. firms to transfer their technology to Chinese rivals.

U.S. and Chinese officials, lawmakers and trade experts warn such follow-on negotiations may prove difficult given the November 2020 U.S. presidential election, the difficulties in getting the first-stage done, and the White House’s reluctance to work with other countries to pressure Beijing.

“We continue to negotiate,” Conway said. “But those forced tech transfers, the theft of intellectual property, the trade imbalance of a half a trillion a year with the world’s second largest economy, China – this makes no sense to people.

“But the president wants a deal. But President Trump always waits for the best deal,” she said.

Tuesday’s call took place amid heightened tensions on various fronts between Beijing and Washington, with China saying on Tuesday that it had summoned U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad on Monday to protest the passage in the U.S. Congress of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

China’s foreign ministry said the legislation amounted to interference in a Chinese internal matter.

Commerce Minister Zhong Shan, central bank governor Yi Gang and vice head of state planner Ning Jizhe also participated in the phone call.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Catherine Evans and Jonathan Oatis)

Landslide democratic win puts pressure on leader of Chinese-ruled Hong Kong

Landslide democratic win puts pressure on leader of Chinese-ruled Hong Kong
By Twinnie Siu and Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s leader pledged to listen to public opinion on Monday and referred to deep-seated problems in society after a landslide election victory by opponents of Chinese rule amid months of sometimes violent pro-democracy unrest.

Democratic candidates secured almost 90% of 452 district council seats in Sunday’s poll, held during a rare weekend lull in clashes with police, despite a strongly resourced and mobilized pro-establishment opposition.

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing chief executive, Carrie Lam, said the government respected the results and wished “the peaceful, safe and orderly situation to continue”.

“Quite a few are of the view that the results reflect people’s dissatisfaction with the current situation and the deep-seated problems in society,” Lam said.

The government would “listen to the opinions of members of the public humbly and seriously reflect”, her statement said.

The elections saw record turnout after six months of protests and brought upset wins for democrats against heavyweight pro-Beijing opponents, greeted in some voting centers by chants of “Liberate Hong Kong” and “Revolution Now”.

While district councils deal with local issues such as transport, their members also form part of the election committee for Hong Kong’s chief executive. This could give them some influence over the next vote in 2022, although they only account for 117 of its 1,200 members.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai described the election as the first step in the long way to full democracy. “This district election shows that the central government needs to face the demands of a democratic system,” he said.

Along with universal suffrage, the protesters’ demands include an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality.

The voting ended with no major disruptions across the city of 7.4 million people on a day that saw massive, though orderly, queues form outside voting centers.

“This is the power of democracy. This is a democratic tsunami,” said Tommy Cheung, a former student protest leader who won a seat in the Yuen Long district close to China’s border.

FIRST STEP?

When asked if the chief executive should consider her position in light of the election results, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing “firmly supports” Lam’s leadership.

Hong Kong’s most urgent task was to restore order and stop the violence, Geng told a daily press briefing.

In self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own, the Presidential Office expressed “great admiration and support” for the election result.

“The election fully demonstrates Hong Kong people’s absolute will to pursue freedom and democracy,” it said.

The number of seats held by the pro-democracy camp more than quadrupled and turnout, at 71%, was almost double the number in the previous polls four years ago.

Starry Lee, chairwoman of the city’s largest pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, apologized for her party’s performance.

“For this major defeat, we do not want to find any excuses and reasons,” said Lee. She said the party rejected her offer to resign earlier on Monday.

‘PATH OF STRUGGLE’

Former student leader Lester Shum, who won a seat, said district councils were just one path to democracy. “In future, we must find other paths of struggle to keep fighting,” he said.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency announced the completion of the election, but did not say which side had won.

“Rioters, in concert with external forces, have continuously committed and escalated violence, resulting in social and political confrontation,” it said. “…Months of social unrest have seriously disrupted the electoral process.”

Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering and says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula for the former British colony put in place when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Police say they have shown restraint in the face of potentially deadly attacks.

Britain said it welcomed Lam’s promise to “seriously reflect” on the result.

Jimmy Sham, a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized some of the anti-government rallies, won his electoral contest, while some pro-Beijing heavyweights, such as Junius Ho, a hate-figure among protesters for his abrasive comments, lost.

Ho described the outcome on Facebook as “an unusual result”.

Sham and other democrats entered the Polytechnic University to urge police to end a standoff and allow humanitarian assistance to those few protesters trapped inside in now filthy conditions, with fears rising about their physical and emotional health.

The university is guarded round the clock by riot police, after around 1,100 were arrested last week. Some were held during escape attempts that included trying to clamber down ropes to waiting motor-bikes, with protesters throwing petrol bombs and police responding with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.

There was a small standoff between police and protesters outside the campus on Monday evening, with many shouting “come out” and hurling abuse at police.

The protests started over a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial but rapidly evolved into calls for full democracy, posing the biggest populist challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

(Reporting by Clare Jim, Felix Tam, Twinnie Siu, Jessie Pang, Kate Lamb, Sarah Wu and Josh Smith in Hong Kong, Yimou Lee in Taipei and Vincent Lee and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Writing by James Pomfret, Marius Zaharia and Nick Macfie; Editing by Paul Tait, Simon Cameron-Moore and Philippa Fletcher)

China envoy warns of ‘very bad damage’ if Canada follows U.S. lead on Hong Kong

OTTAWA (Reuters) – China’s new ambassador to Canada on Friday warned Ottawa not to follow the U.S. lead and formally back protesters in Hong Kong, saying such a move would cause “very bad damage” to already poor ties with Beijing.

Canada, which has been locked in a trade and diplomatic dispute with China, has repeatedly expressed concern about the safety of its 300,000 citizens in Hong Kong, hit by five months of mass demonstrations for more democracy and autonomy.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed two bills to back the protesters and send a warning to China about human rights.

“If somebody here really tries to … have this kind of law like that in the United States, it’s very dangerous,” said Chinese envoy Cong Peiwu, speaking in English.

“If anything happens like this it will certainly have a very bad damage on our bilateral relationship and that is not in the interests of Canada,” he told a news conference in the embassy. He formally presented his credentials on Nov 1.

The uncompromising tone of his message indicated that while the ambassador may have changed, China’s approach has not.

Cong repeated Beijing’s demand that Canada immediately release Huawei Technologies Co Ltd Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who is out on bail after Canadian police detained her on a U.S. arrest warrant last December.

“This incident has led to the severe difficulties the two countries are facing nowadays,” said Cong.

Shortly after Meng’s arrest, China picked up two Canadian citizens on state secret charges, and has since blocked imports of canola seed from Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asked on Wednesday what additional measures Canada would take to protect its citizens in Hong Kong, said “we will continue to call for de-escalation and an end to violence” while urging dialogue.

If Canada wanted to protect its citizens, it should ask “those rioters to stop the violence, otherwise those Canadians living in Hong Kong, how can they be safe?” Cong said.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

U.S. House passes Hong Kong rights bills, Trump expected to sign

By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed two bills to back protesters in Hong Kong and send a warning to China about human rights, with President Donald Trump expected to sign them into law, despite delicate trade talks with Beijing.

The House sent the bills to the White House after voting 417 to 1 for the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act,” which the Senate passed unanimously on Tuesday. Strong support had been expected after the House passed a similar bill last month.

The measure, which has angered Beijing, would require the State Department to certify at least once a year that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to qualify for the special U.S. trading consideration that helped it become a world financial center.

It also would provide for sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations in the Chinese-ruled city.

Demonstrators have protested for more than five months in the streets of Hong Kong, amid increasing violence and fears that Beijing will ratchet up its response to stop the civil disobedience.

The protesters are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to Hong Kong when Britain handed it back to China in 1997.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio was a main sponsor of the Senate-passed bill, which was co-sponsored by Republican Senator Jim Risch and Democratic Senators Bob Menendez and Ben Cardin.

The House passed, by 417 to zero, a second bill, which the Senate also approved unanimously on Tuesday, to ban the export of certain crowd-control munitions to Hong Kong police forces. That measure bans the export of items such as tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns.

President Trump has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to sign a bill passed by Congress, unless he opts to use his veto.

A person familiar with the matter said the president intended to sign the bills into law, not veto them.

Vetoes would have been difficult to sustain, since the measures passed both the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House with almost no objections.

A two-thirds majority would be required in both the Senate and House to override a veto.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

In Beijing on Wednesday, China condemned the legislation’s passage, and vowed strong countermeasures to safeguard its sovereignty and security.

China’s foreign ministry said this month that China had lodged “stern representations” with the United States about the legislation and urged that it not be passed into law, saying it would not only harm Chinese interests and China-U.S. relations, but the United States’ own interests too.

It said China would “inevitably take vigorous measures to firmly respond, to staunchly safeguard our sovereignty, security and development interests.”

Trump prompted questions about his commitment to protecting freedoms in Hong Kong when he referred in August to its mass street protests as “riots” that were a matter for China to deal with.

Trump has since called on China to handle the issue humanely, while warning that if anything bad happened in Hong Kong, it could be bad for talks to end a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

On Thursday, the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s main newspaper, the People’s Daily, urged the United States to “rein in the horse at the edge of the precipice” and stop interfering in Hong Kong matters and China’s internal affairs.

“If the U.S. side obstinately clings to its course, the Chinese side will inevitably adopt forceful measures to take resolute revenge, and all consequences will be borne by the United States,” it said in a front-page editorial.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Clarence Fernandez)

China tortured me over Hong Kong, says former British consulate employee

By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – A former employee of Britain’s consulate in Hong Kong said Chinese secret police beat him, deprived him of sleep and shackled him in an attempt to force him to give information about activists leading pro-democracy protests.

Hong Kong, which was returned to China by Britain in 1997, has been convulsed by sometimes violent protests and mass demonstrations, the biggest political crisis for Beijing since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

Simon Cheng, a Hong Kong citizen who worked for the British government for almost two years, said he was tortured while detained for 15 days as he returned from a trip to mainland China in August.

“I was hung (handcuffed and shackled) on a steep X-Cross doing a spread-eagled pose for hours after hours,” Cheng said in a post on Facebook.

“Sometimes, they ordered me to do the ‘stress tests’, which includes extreme strength exercise such as ‘squat’ and ‘chair pose’ for countless hours. They beat me every time I failed to do so using something like sharpened batons.”

Britain said Cheng’s treatment amounted to torture and summoned China’s ambassador to express outrage. China did not immediately comment on Cheng. Reuters was unable to verify his account.

In an 8,000 word description of his experiences, Cheng relates a nightmare of repeated physical abuse, threats and questioning about Britain’s alleged meddling in the protests.

At one point in the interrogation by secret police, he was given a bizarre lecture about astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus whose unpopularity in the 16th Century was used to justify the argument that China was not ready for democracy.

Cheng was accused of being a British spy and questioned at length about protest leaders and their links to the London School of Economics. Eventually, it was proposed, he should work for the Chinese “motherland”.

“I was suspected of being a mastermind and British proxy to incite and organise the protests in Hong Kong,” Cheng said.

‘TORTURE’

Britain said Cheng had been treated disgracefully.

“Simon Cheng was a valued member of our team. We were shocked and appalled by the mistreatment he suffered while in Chinese detention, which amounts to torture,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

“I summoned the Chinese Ambassador to express our outrage at the brutal and disgraceful treatment of Simon in violation of China’s international obligations,” Raab said.

Cheng, who said he supported the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, said he would not seek judicial redress as he had no faith in the Chinese legal system.

Hong Kong’s justice secretary said she had no opinion on the torture accusation and Cheng should report the matter to the Chinese authorities.

“I prefer to hold my opinion until I have the opportunity to collect and analyse any information that I might have,” said Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng, who shares the same surname as the former consulate employee.

Hong Kong was handed over to China by the colony’s former ruler Britain in 1997 but enjoys a degree of autonomy under the so-called “one country, two systems” formula.

China’s ambassador to London on Monday accused foreign countries including the United States and Britain of interfering in Chinese internal affairs through their reactions to the violent clashes taking place in Hong Kong.

Ambassador Liu Xiaoming said Western countries were meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs.

Cheng was forced to give a written confession for betraying the motherland, a statement of apology and a confession for “soliciting prostitution”. He was instructed to sing the Chinese national anthem and recorded doing so.

He was told that if he spoke about his experiences he would be spirited out of Hong Kong back to mainland China.

“I won’t give up the fight for human rights, peace, freedom and democracy for the rest of my life, no matter the danger, discrimination and retaliation I will face, and no matter how my reputation will be stained, and no matter whether my future would be blacklisted, labelled, and ruined,” Cheng said.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood)