Biden 2020

Biden says new China national security law a 'death blow,' weighs sanctions

(Reuters) - Democrat Joe Biden on Wednesday threatened new economic sanctions on China if he is elected U.S. president, calling its new security law imposed on Hong Kong a “death blow” to the territory’s freedom.

FILE PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden puts his protective face mask back on and adjusts it as he departs after speaking about President Donald Trump's response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and answering questions from reporters during a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., June 30, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Biden, who has a lead in national opinion polls ahead of his Nov. 3 election fight against President Donald Trump, said Beijing was “acting with impunity” when it unveiled new laws for Hong Kong that would punish crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

“Beijing’s new national security law - enacted in secret and sweeping in scope - is already dealing a death blow to the freedoms and autonomy that set Hong Kong apart from the rest of China,” Biden said in a statement provided to Reuters.

The likely Democratic presidential nominee said he would “prohibit U.S. companies from abetting repression and supporting the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state” and “impose swift economic sanctions” if Beijing “tries to silence U.S. citizens, companies, and institutions for exercising their First Amendment rights.”

He also vowed to “take stronger steps to prevent imports from forced labor” in Xinjiang, the Chinese region where the United Nations estimates more than a million Muslims have been detained in camps.

China denies mistreatment of people in Xinjiang, while authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the new national security legislation is aimed at a few “troublemakers” and will not affect rights and freedoms, nor investors’ interests.

Biden’s forceful new threat of action against China came as U.S. officials fear the law could be used against Americans because some of its provisions may allow foreigners who oppose Chinese policies to be prosecuted.

Biden said China’s actions represented “another terrible turn for the rights of the Chinese people on President Trump’s watch” and accused the Republican president of “fealty to Xi Jinping,” the Chinese president.

In a recently published book, Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, said the president held back on criticizing China over human rights abuses to make trade deals with the country.

“President Trump is the only leader to boldly stand up to China, tighten the leash on Beijing’s unfair corporate espionage, and renegotiate unfair trade deals that have been in place for decades, deals that Joe Biden did nothing to undo during his decades in office,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Courtney Parella said in an emailed statement.

Some analysts, however, doubt the willingness of the Trump administration to take the sort of forceful action that would have an impact on Beijing, given the extensive U.S. business interests in Hong Kong and Trump’s desire to maintain a trade deal reached with China this year.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Editing by Soyoung Kim, Marguerita Choy and Dan Grebler