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China suspends US warship visits to Hong Kong over support for protesters

China also sanctioned a number of US-based NGOs

The Chinese government on Monday, December 2, suspended visits to Hong Kong by U.S. warships in response to Congress passing legislation in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

“In response to the unreasonable behavior of the U.S. side, the Chinese government has decided to suspend reviewing the applications for U.S. warships to go to Hong Kong for [rest and] recuperation as of today,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing.

U.S. warships regularly dock in Hong Kong for sailors to go on leave, and the Chinese government has periodically denied U.S. docking requests in the past.

China denied requests for two U.S. Navy ships to dock in Hong Kong in August, without specifying a reason why. The last U.S. Navy ship to visit Hong Kong was the USS Blue Ridge in April.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong has been rocked by protests pushing for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability, but the city’s pro-Beijing leadership has refused any major political concessions.

Last week U.S. President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which requires the president to annually review the city’s favorable trade status and threatens to revoke it if the U.S. determines the territory’s freedoms are quashed.

Beijing’s latest move came just days after China’s Ministry of National Defense on Thursday condemned what it called “trespassing” of U.S. warships and military aircraft near reefs and islands in the South China Sea, according to state-run Xinhua news agency.

Last month the USS Gabrielle Giffords, a littoral-class combat ship, twice sailed within 12 nautical miles of a reef claimed by China. The destroyer Wayne E. Meyer sailed near the Paracel islands, which are variously claimed by Beijing, Taiwan and Vietnam, Reuters reported.

The U.S. says its actions maintain freedom of navigation in international waterways. The Chinese government, which has claimed nearly all of the South China Sea, regularly condemns U.S. naval activity there as “provocative” and calls on Washington to stop.

China has effectively drawn a property line around the whole of the Paracels archipelago – which it calls the Xisha Islands – to claim the entire territory. But the United States says that does not accord with international law on archipelagos and territorial seas.

Beijing’s announcement on Monday also comes as the world’s two biggest economies have been striving to finalize a “phase one” deal in their protracted trade war.

An editorial from pro-government Global Times said Beijing could take further measures if the U.S. “continues to escalate the provocation in Hong Kong.”

“Operationally, from a military point of view, it doesn’t really make a difference for the U.S., as they can use many naval bases in the region,” Michael Raska, a security researcher at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, told AFP.

However, it “sends a signal that US-China tensions will continue to deepen,” Raska said.

The Chinese government also intends to sanction U.S.-based NGOs in response to the bill, including the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, Hua said.

There was “already a large amount of facts and evidence that make it clear that these non-governmental organizations support anti-China” forces and “incite separatist activities for Hong Kong independence,” Hua said.

She accused them of having “great responsibility for the chaotic situation in Hong Kong.”

With reporting from AFP

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