US irks China yet again as US Congress passes Uighur Bill


China has warned that its bilateral relations with the United States of America will be gravely affected if the latter will push for the legislation that calls for a tougher response to Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority, clouding prospects for a near-term deal to end a trade war.

The US House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved the Uighur Act of 2019 on Tuesday, which targets China’s crackdown on ethnic Muslim minorities, just days after US President Donald Trump signed separate human rights legislation on Hong Kong.

The approval of the bill, which still requires passage by the Republican controlled House of Senate before being sent to the White House, has angered Beijing and further strained an already shaky  relationship.

Passed 407-1 in the Democratic-controlled House, the Uighur Bill requires the US President to condemn abuses against Muslims and call for the closure of mass detention camps in western China’s Xinjiang region.

It urges Mr Trump to impose sanctions for the first time on a member of China’s powerful politburo, Xinjiang Communist Party secretary Chen Quanguo.

Beijing called the Bill a malicious attack on China, demanded that the US prevent it from becoming law and said it would act to defend its interests as necessary.

Several sources familiar with Beijing’s stance said the Bill could jeopardise the “phase one” trade deal already fraught with disagreements and complications.

With a new round of US tariffs on Chinese goods scheduled to take effect on Dec 15, the possibility of another breakdown is growing.

“Do you think if America takes actions to hurt China’s interests, we won’t take any action,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told reporters when asked whether the Uighur Act would affect the trade talks. “I think any wrong words and deeds must pay the due price.”

Negotiators have continued to work on a trade deal. But sources familiar with the talks say the two sides are still wrangling over the details, including whether existing US tariffs on Chinese goods will be removed.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC on Tuesday that staff-level trade negotiations with China were continuing, but no high-level trade talks had been scheduled. Planned US tariffs on remaining Chinese imports will take effect on Dec 15, barring significant progress in the talks or a deal, he said.

Ms Hua said China would set no timeline or deadline for a trade deal and would take “decisive” counter-measures to defend its interests if what she called US protectionism and bullying over trade continued. She did not elaborate on the measures.

Mr Trump said on Tuesday that a trade deal might have to wait until after next year’s election.

A Chinese official, who declined to be identified, warned that US implementation of tariffs on Dec 15 will be countered by China with retaliatory tariffs – an outcome the official said would seriously disrupt ongoing negotiations.

Another Chinese official, who also declined to be identified, said it may take a very long time for Washington and Beijing to reach a deal if they cannot find a way to strike a deal while “the iron is hot”. (Source: The Straits Times)