WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he had signed legislation that would slam sanctions on Chinese officials that undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, the latest step in the administration’s increasingly confrontational stance toward Beijing.

But the president’s official remarks in Rose Garden quickly became political when he offered an expanded critique of Joe Biden, the nominee for the presumptive Democratic president, and the Obama administration’s trade policy.

“If we listened to Joe Biden, hundreds of thousands of additional lives would have been lost,”

; to the corona virus, Trump claimed without proof.

Trump’s remarks, which focused much more on Biden than on Hong Kong, came when the president has slipped in national elections and seen sliding support in battlefield states he won in 2016, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The president, who made trade with China a central part of his 2016 campaign, claimed that the Obama administration “freely allowed China to plunder our factories.” Biden assistants did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s remarks were just the latest case in which the president has strongly influenced presidential politics during an official event.

“I can not believe it,” political analyst Stuart Rothenberg posted on Twitter. “This is a White House campaign event.”

US relations with China have deteriorated since the president hammered at Beijing’s response to the coronavirus, repeatedly claiming that the country did not warn the world about the severity of the disease, which the expert says originated in Wuhan. The virus has added a new layer of tension to the top of the trade war that broke out in 2018.

“We hold China fully responsible for concealing the virus and releasing it into the world,” Trump said in the remarks in Rose Garden, which announced the decision.

The president’s remarks about the sanctions proposal quickly became political, and Trump gave an extended critique of Joe Biden, the nominee for the presumptive Democratic president.

Trump has claimed that his “phase one” trade agreement with China, announced in January, remains in place, even though the country falls below its targets for buying US goods and Washington has imposed billions of dollars in billions in Chinese goods.

The president said he also signed an executive order ending Hong Kong’s preferential treatment.

More: The Trump administration rejects almost all of Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea

China eased sanctions on four U.S. officials this week in response to sanctions imposed by the Chinese administration on Chinese officials who say they are responsible for the persecution of Muslim Uighur minorities in China’s province of Xinjiang.

Opening hours later, the Trump administration rejected almost all of China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea and accused Beijing of “bullying” its neighbors.

But even as his administration has taken an increasingly aggressive tone with China, Trump has been reluctant to consider Hong Kong’s breakdown. Last month, he announced that he would “begin the process” of ending Washington’s special relationship with Hong Kong, giving the region good trade benefits.

China began introducing its national security law this month, dismissing international pressure to preserve Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status and its separate legal, political and economic framework, which has existed since 1997 when Britain handed over the administration of the city to China. This policy had anchored freedom of expression, the press, the Assembly and an independent judiciary for the people of Hong Kong.

Chinese officials have defended the new law as necessary to preserve national security and protect Hong Kong’s prosperity, but critics say it aims to remove protocratic protests that have plagued Hong Kong for months.

However, lawmakers advanced bipartisan legislation to crack down on China to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy. The measure imposes sanctions on Chinese officials that help enforce national security legislation, which criminalizes subversion and other forms of disagreement and allows Hong Kong residents to be extradited to China for trial.

Cast: Nicholas Wu, Deirdre Shesgreen

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