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A Look At The Latest Updates In Hong Kong


President Trump says the U.S. will begin the process of ending its special relationship with Hong Kong in response to China's move to strip the territory of much of its autonomy. And he says the US will withdraw from the World Health Organization. NPR's John Ruwitch joins us now to talk about this. Good morning, John.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Let's start with the WHO. What did the president say about why he's pulling out of this global health body, at this of all times? And can he really do that?

RUWITCH: Yeah, Trump's view - and he said as much - is that China has total control over the World Health Organization. He said China pressured the WHO to mislead the world on coronavirus, and the world is suffering as a result. He says the WHO also hasn't made reforms that the administration thinks are necessary. And so the U.S. is leaving and directing the millions and millions of dollars that it pays into the WHO every year elsewhere - to other global public health issues. Experts say it's unclear if the president can really do this. It may need congressional approval. We'll have to wait and see on that. But presumably, the message he's trying to send is, you know, if you're a multilateral agency and we think you're doing China's bidding, we're out.

SIMON: And Hong Kong. President Trump says he wants to punish China for its plan to impose national security law on the city-state. What kind of measures is he talking about?

RUWITCH: The U.S., for many years, has treated Hong Kong as a separate entity from mainland China in a number of ways. We've got an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, agreements on dual-use technology exports. Hong Kong is considered its own customs territory, which is separate from mainland China. It's got zero tariffs. Trump put all that in play. He said the administration is going to begin the process of eliminating policy exemptions that keep Hong Kong different and take action toward revoking Hong Kong's status as a separate customs and travel zone, which could be a really big deal. Significantly, he also said he's going to take steps to sanction Chinese and Hong Kong officials who are involved in what he considered to be the erosion of Hong Kong's freedoms. So what he's promising is something that has the potential to shake up the U.S.-Hong Kong relationship pretty radically.

SIMON: And what about the reaction from Beijing and Hong Kong?

RUWITCH: It's been muted so far, actually, from Beijing. The Chinese embassy in Washington yesterday put out a brief statement on the website saying that Hong Kong is an internal matter. That's a repeat of what Chinese officials say on these type of issues. It said China will take necessary countermeasures against foreign meddling, but it didn't specify. In Hong Kong, the city's secretary for justice defended the Chinese government's decision to draft national security legislation and said, it's wrong to say Hong Kong is becoming one country, one systems. That's something that President Trump said yesterday. Other than that, the Global Times - which is a nationalist tabloid newspaper run by the Communist Party - had an editorial basically saying the U.S. is gambling by taking these measures. It'll eventually lose trust and the favorable opinion of the Hong Kong people, and it's swimming against the tides of history here.

SIMON: John, relations between Washington, D.C., and Beijing were already pretty low. What could this mean overall for that U.S.-China relationship?

RUWITCH: It's not good. China-U.S. relations have been deteriorating for a while now. And some analysts say they're really at their worst since after the June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square three decades ago. So, you know, the president also issued a proclamation yesterday banning some Chinese scholars from coming to the U.S. for graduate studies. Security concerns seem to be dwarfing all other aspects of the relationship right now in both directions. And things seem to be in freefall with no floor - nothing to stop it from getting worse. So we shall see where things go. The next six months are going to be key with the U.S. election coming up because, you know, this is an issue that Trump seems to be focusing on.

SIMON: NPR's John Ruwitch, thanks so much.

RUWITCH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEEK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.