China said on Thursday U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is "blackmailing" the Hong Kong government with the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and that Washington's recent actions amount to blatant interference on China's internal affairs.
Pompeo said on Wednesday the recent treatment of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong makes it harder to assess whether the territory remains highly autonomous from China, a requirement for special treatments the city gets under American law.
A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry's office of the commissioner to Hong Kong said in a statement Pompeo's actions cannot scare the Chinese people and that Beijing will safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests.
Pompeo said a congressionally mandated State Department assessment as to whether the former British colony has such a degree of autonomy was still pending.
"We are closely watching what's going on there," he told a news conference.
Pompeo said pro-democracy lawmakers had been "manhandled" this week while trying to stop what he characterized as procedural irregularity by pro-Beijing legislators, and added: "Leading Hong Kong activists like Martin Lee and Jimmy Lai were hauled into court. Actions like these make it more difficult to assess that Hong Kong remains highly autonomous from mainland China."
Pompeo announced on May 6 he was delaying the report assessing whether Hong Kong was sufficiently autonomous to warrant the special economic treatment that has helped it remain a world financial center.
He said this was to account for any actions Beijing might contemplate ahead of China's National People's Congress this Friday.
On Sunday, Pompeo said he believed China had threatened to interfere with the work of U.S. journalists in Hong Kong, and warned Beijing that any decision impinging on Hong Kong's autonomy could affect the American assessment.
U.S.-China tensions have spiked in recent weeks, with Pompeo and President Donald Trump slamming Beijing's handling of the coronavirus outbreak, in which the United States has been hardest hit.
"This plague has cost roughly 90,000 American lives, more than 36 million Americans have lost their jobs since March; globally 300,000 lives. Could be as much as $9 trillion, according to our estimates, cost imposition on the world of the Chinese Communist Party's failures," Pompeo said.
— CNBC contributed to this report.