United States President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced that he has signed an order to end special trade preferences for Hong Kong to punish China’s “oppressive actions” against the former British colony. The president was referring to China’s decision to enact a new national security law for Hong Kong.

“Today I signed legislation, and an executive order to hold China accountable for its aggressive actions against the people of Hong Kong,” Trump told a news conference. “Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China no special privileges, no special economic treatment and no export of sensitive technologies.”

The president also said he has signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which was passed unanimously in the Congress earlier this month. “This law gives my administration powerful new tools to hold responsible the individuals and the entities involved in extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom,” Trump said. “Their freedom has been taken away; their rights have been taken away. And with it goes Hong Kong, in my opinion, because it will no longer be able to compete with free markets. A lot of people will be leaving Hong Kong.”

The bill approved by the US Congress will penalise banks doing business with Chinese officials who implement the new security law, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, the executive order calls for blocking the US property of any person determined to be responsible for or complicit in “actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Hong Kong,” according to the text of the document released by the White House.

Trump added that he had no plans to speak to Chinese President Xi Jinping. “Make no mistake,” he added. “We hold China fully responsible for concealing the virus and unleashing it upon the world. They could have stopped it, they should have stopped it. It would have been very easy to do at the source, when it happened.”

The coronavirus pandemic has increased tensions between Washington and Beijing and their relations have reached their lowest point in years. Trump has consistently pointed to Chinese culpability in failing to contain the outbreak in its early stages and accused Beijing of not being transparent about it.

China’s military buildup in the South China Sea, its treatment of Uighur Muslims and massive trade surpluses has also contributed to the strained ties.

New security law

Last month, China’s parliament passed a national security legislation for Hong Kong that would override local laws and give sweeping powers to security agencies. The unprecedented law is aimed at curbing protests – which rocked Hong Kong last year – and prohibiting subversion, separatism, “acts of foreign interference”, and terrorism. These charges are often used in the Chinese mainland to stifle dissidents and political opponents. The new law will also allow China’s security personnel to operate in Hong Kong.

Under the new law, certain political views and symbols, including those showing support for Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet independence, are now illegal.

The new legislation came after people in Hong Kong held anti-Beijing protests for months from June 2019. China said the security law was necessary to stop the type of protests seen in Hong Kong. Critics say China’s law ends the freedoms that were guaranteed for 50 years under the “one country, two systems” agreement when British rule ended in 1997.