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A pro-democracy protester sticks a poster featuring President Trump on a pillar in the Hong Kong financial district today. Photo: Kin Cheung/AP

President Trump thrilled China hardliners in the U.S. yesterday by signing two bills backing human rights in Hong Kong, provoking a threat of "firm counter measures" from Beijing.

Why it matters: Trump signed the bills knowing they would complicate trade negotiations. That suggests that he thinks he has a winning hand, based partly on weak economic data from China and stronger signs in the U.S.

  • The bills had been approved nearly unanimously in the House and Senate, but it was unclear if Trump would sign them.
  • The expected signing of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) helps provide political cover.

Between the lines: Trump chose not to take the easy way and let the legislation go into law by default on Tuesday.

  • China had threatened retaliation for weeks, so this was seen as thumbing his nose at Xi.

The latest: China reacted furiously, summoning the U.S. ambassador to protest, and warning the move would undermine cooperation with Washington. (AP)

  • Protesters in Hong Kong staged a "Thanksgiving" rally, "with thousands of people, some draped in U.S. flags, gathering in the heart of the city." (Reuters)

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Go deeper

27 mins ago - World

Iran's nuclear dilemma: Ramp up now or wait for Biden

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The world is waiting to see whether Iran will strike back at Israel or the U.S. over the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran's military nuclear program.

Why it matters: Senior Iranian officials have stressed that Iran will take revenge against the perpetrators, but also respond by continuing Fakhrizadeh’s legacy — the nuclear program. The key question is whether Iran will accelerate that work now, or wait to see what President-elect Biden puts on the table.

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

U.K. first nation to clear Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for mass rollout

A health care worker during the phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial by Pfizer and BioNTech in Ankara, Turkey, in October. Photo: Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's government announced Wednesday it's approved Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, which "will be made available across the U.K. from next week."

Why it matters: The U.K. has beaten the U.S. to become the first Western country to give emergency approval for a vaccine that's found to be 95% effective with no serious side effects against a virus that's killed nearly 1.5 million people globally.

3 hours ago - World

Biden says he won't immediately remove U.S. tariffs on China

President-elect Joe Biden during an event in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump's 25% tariffs imposed on China under the phase one trade deal will remain in place at the start of the new administration, President-elect Biden said in an interview with the New York Times published early Wednesday.

Details: "I'm not going to make any immediate moves, and the same applies to the tariffs," Biden said. He plans to conduct a full review of the current U.S. policy on China and speak with key allies in Asia and Europe to "develop a coherent strategy," he said.