The US national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, talked to NBC News' "Meet the Press" on Sunday.Screenshot/NBC News

China's aggressive push for Hong Kong national security laws could lead to US sanctions, White House official says


The White House national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, on Sunday said China's aggressive move to force national security laws on Hong Kong might result in US sanctions.

During an interview with NBC News' "Meet the Press," O'Brien said China's actions indicated the country was "going to basically take over Hong Kong," which could spark economic retribution.

"If they do," he said, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would "likely be unable to certify that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy, and if that happens, there will be sanctions that will be imposed on Hong Kong and China."

China is moving forward with a set of national security laws for Hong Kong meant to crack down on anti-Beijing sentiment and further erode the region's autonomy. The new proposal, targeting secession, subversion, and foreign interference in Hong Kong, is expected to be passed Thursday at the annual National People's Congress.

The unilateral move by China prompted thousands to take to the streets in Hong Kong over the weekend, resulting in police officers firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray onto crowds that gathered at the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay.

Ben Bland, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute in Australia who wrote "Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China's Shadow," told Business Insider that China's decision to thrust these new laws onto Hong Kong "represents a major blow to Hong Kong's freedoms and autonomy."

Last year, the US House and Senate passed bills meant to defend human rights in Hong Kong after mass protests broke out in the city in response to a proposal that would have allowed for the extradition of Hong Kong residents to the mainland for trial.

The bill, titled the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, was signed into law by President Donald Trump on November 27 and essentially requires the State Department to ensure that Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" agreement with China is upheld each year for the US government to continue to afford Hong Kong with a special trade status.

The law also requires the US government to impose sanctions against those responsible for human-rights abuses in Hong Kong.

On Friday, Pompeo said China's effort to commandeer Hong Kong's national security legislation was "a death knell for the high degree of autonomy" that Beijing had promised to afford Hong Kong in its one-country, two-systems agreement.

"The United States strongly urges Beijing to reconsider its disastrous proposal, abide by its international obligations, and respect Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy, democratic institutions, and civil liberties, which are key to preserving its special status under US law," Pompeo said in a statement.