By The Straits Times/Asia News Network
Hundreds gathered in Hong Kong's Central financial district on Thursday night to celebrate the signing of a bill in the United States that supports the city's pro-democracy protesters.
Some participants waved American flags while the crowd shouted slogans like "fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong".
Prominent activist Joshua Wong, who lobbied for the new US laws, said it was a "remarkable achievement" that human rights triumphed over crucial US-China trade talks.
He said he hoped more countries would set up similar mechanisms to sanction Hong Kong officials who undermine the city's freedoms. "Now is the time for the Western world to stand with Hong Kong," he said.
But Hong Kong's former leader Leung Chun Ying said whoever initiated the bill did not have the interests of the city in mind.
"It's a proxy thing. I don't think they have Hong Kong's freedoms, democracy, and Hong Kong's human rights in mind. It's all about China," he said when asked at a panel session at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong.
The pro-establishment camp in the city is angry about the move, saying that it undermines Hong Kong interests and that the business community now wants to cut investments in the US.
The Hong Kong government called the US action unwarranted and unreasonable, saying it would send the wrong message to protesters and not help ease tensions.
A furious Beijing summoned the US ambassador on Thursday to demand that Washington stop interfering in its domestic affairs, warning that there will be repercussions that the US will have to shoulder after President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong democracy Act into law.
Vice-Foreign Minister Le Yucheng called US Ambassador Terry Branstad in, after the ministry issued a strongly worded statement chastising the US for its "naked hegemonic act" and for supporting violent protesters who broke the law.
"The nature of this is extremely abominable, and harbours sinister intentions," said the statement issued hours after the signing.
China has warned of countermeasures should Trump approve the law, which receives wide support from Congress. "The motive is clearly to destroy Hong Kong's prosperity and stability, the 'one country, two systems' practice, and undermine the Chinese nation's endeavour to realise great rejuvenation," said the statement.
When asked at a regular news briefing on Thursday what countermeasures Beijing would take, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang would only say: "What should come will come sooner or later."
In a tweet, nationalistic tabloid Global Times' editor-in-chief, Hu Xijin, said China is considering putting "the drafters of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act on the no-entry list", which would bar them from entering mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.
The Hong Kong Liaison Office issued a similarly stern statement expressing its outrage and condemnation of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which permits the US to impose sanctions on officials for human rights violations in Hong Kong.
"Any tricks that attempt to undermine Hong Kong's prosperity and stability and hinder China's development will never work," said the statement.
The new law mandates a yearly review of whether Hong Kong is autonomous enough to keep its special trading status with the US. A second Bill signed by Mr Trump bans the sale of tear gas and rubber bullets to the Hong Kong police.
The US has a substantial economic stake in Hong Kong, and any policy change would affect bilateral relations and the US' own interest, said a spokesman for the Hong Kong government.
Adding to the flurry of statements were those from the Office of the Commissioner of the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, with the latter labelling the US as "the most culpable black hand to create havoc in Hong Kong".
The US law is seen as another win for the pro-democracy movement in the city, coming days after pan-democrats scored a landslide victory in the district elections.
China scholar Adam Ni said the Chinese perception is that the US is leveraging the Hong Kong unrest as part of its larger effort to contain the rising superpower.
Concrete countermeasures by Beijing are unlikely at this point, given how precarious bilateral ties are and trade talks are still ongoing.
"I think this adds to the atmosphere of confrontation and distrust between China and the US," said the visiting scholar at the Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University and co-editor of China-focused newsletter China Neican.
Trade talks are unlikely to be scuppered as both sides have a high stake in reaching a deal of some sort.
"I think the trade deal is too big of a deal for China to jeopardise for the sake of retaliating in relation to the US' latest move on Hong Kong," said Ni.