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US delays Hong Kong report that could upset China

Protesters are detained by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November 2019
Protesters are detained by police near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November 2019 Anthony WALLACE AFP/File
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Washington (AFP)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday postponed a report on whether China is respecting the autonomy of restive Hong Kong as required under a new law that infuriated Beijing.

Pompeo, who did not announce a new date, said the delay was due to China's plans to convene its top legislature on May 22 -- a time when Beijing is especially sensitive about preventing dissent.

"We're delaying our report to Congress that will assess Hong Kong's autonomy to allow us to account for any additional actions that Beijing may be contemplating in the run-up to the National People's Congress that would further undermine the people of Hong Kong's autonomy as promised by China," Pompeo told reporters.

Under the law, the State Department is required by late May to review whether China is respecting the former British colony's autonomy and if the financial hub still deserves preferential trading privileges with the United States.

The bill enjoyed overwhelming support from Congress and Trump signed it reluctantly in November after hearing angry accusations from China that the United States was interfering.

Lawmakers across party lines have urged the Trump administration to move forward and provide an "accurate" assessment on the situation in Hong Kong, which was rocked by months of pro-democracy demonstrations last year.

"It is critical that the United States use the available tools under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act," said a recent letter to Pompeo by lawmakers who included Senator Marco Rubio, a Trump ally, and Representative Eliot Engel, the Democratic head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The report should "make clear to Beijing that its violations of its international commitments and its commitments to the people of Hong Kong will have consequences," they wrote.

China earlier Wednesday warned Hong Kong that it would not tolerate new protests, as small demonstrations resume following the lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump had hesitated on whether to sign the Hong Kong bill at a time when he was seeking to seal a deal in a trade war with China.

Relations have since deteriorated between the Pacific powers, with Pompeo blaming China for the pandemic that has killed more than 250,000 people worldwide, more than a quarter of them in the United States.

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