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Hong Kong will suspend some legal cooperation with U.S., China says

BEIJING (Reuters) - Hong Kong will suspend an agreement on mutual legal assistance with the United States, China’s foreign ministry said on Thursday, in a tit-for-tat response to Washington ending some agreements with Hong Kong.

The U.S. State Department notified Hong Kong on Wednesday that Washington had suspended or terminated three bilateral agreements with the semi-autonomous city following China’s imposition of a sweeping national security law.

“China urges the U.S. to immediately correct its mistakes,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a news briefing on Thursday as he announced the suspension of the agreement on legal assistance.

The agreement, signed in 1997 before Britain returned Hong Kong to China, specified that the United States and Hong Kong governments would help each other in criminal matters such as transferring people in custody or searching and confiscating proceeds of crime.

The U.S. State Department said earlier the three agreements the United States ended covered “the surrender of fugitive offenders, the transfer of sentenced persons, and reciprocal tax exemptions on income derived from the international operation of ships”.

The U.S. decision followed President Donald Trump’s order last month to end Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law to punish China for what he called “oppressive actions” against the former British colony.

Trump signed an executive order that he said would end the preferential economic treatment for the city following the imposition of the draconian new security law.

The national security law punishes anything China considers secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison and has drawn criticism from Western countries that worry the law will end the freedoms promised when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule.

Beijing and the Hong Kong government have defended the law as necessary to restore order and preserve prosperity after months of at times violent anti-government protests last year.

Hong Kong has become another contentious issue between China and the United States, whose relations were already strained by differences over trade, China’s claims in the South China Sea and its treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority.

Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Toby Chopra, Robert Birsel

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