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China warns US over Uighur bill, raising doubts over early trade deal

Beijing

CHINA warned on Wednesday that United States legislation calling for a tougher response to Beijing's treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority will affect bilateral cooperation, clouding prospects for a near-term deal to end a trade war.

Expectations of a quick deal had receded already, after US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that it might take until late-2020 to reach an agreement.

Approval by the US House of Representatives of the Uighur Act of 2019, which still requires passage by the Republican-controlled Senate before being sent to Mr Trump, has angered Beijing and further strained an already testy relationship.

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Several sources familiar with Beijing's stance told Reuters that the bill could jeopardise the so-called phase one trade deal already fraught with disagreements and complications.

With a new round of US tariffs on Chinese goods scheduled to take effect in less than two weeks, the possibility of another breakdown is growing.

Negotiators have continued to work on the trade deal, but sources familiar with the talks say the two sides are still wrangling over the details.

Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that Washington and Beijing are "moving closer" to agreeing on how much tariffs would be rolled back in an initial trade deal despite the Hong Kong and Xinjiang issues, citing people familiar with the talks.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC on Tuesday that planned US tariffs on remaining Chinese imports will take effect on Dec 15 barring significant progress in the talks, or a deal.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said China would set no timeline or deadline for a trade deal and would take "decisive" countermeasures to defend its interests if what she called US protectionism and bullying over trade continued.

She did not elaborate on what the measures might be.

The Uighur bill, which was passed 407-1 in the Democratic-controlled House, requires the US president to condemn abuse against Muslims and call for the closure of mass detention camps in its western region of Xinjiang. It urges Mr Trump to impose sanctions for the first time on a member of China's powerful politburo, Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo.

Beijing called the bill a malicious attack on China, demanded the US keep it from becoming law and said it would act to defend its interests as necessary.

Vice Foreign Minister Qin Gang urged the US to stop interfering in China's domestic affairs, state TV reported.

The White House has yet to say whether Mr Trump would sign or veto the bill, which contains a provision allowing the president to waive sanctions if he determines that to be in the national interest.

Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party, tweeted on Tuesday that Beijing would soon release a so-called unreliable entities list imposing sanctions against those who harm Chinese interests.

It said China was expediting the process for the list because the US House bill would "harm Chinese firms' interests", and that "relevant" US entities would be among the targets. REUTERS