Pompeo says Hong Kong no longer qualifies as autonomous from Chinaby Laura Kelly
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said the U.S. no longer views Hong Kong as politically autonomous from China, a stark escalation in response to China’s plan to impose new security restrictions on the territory.
“Today, I reported to Congress that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, given facts on the ground,” the secretary wrote on Twitter. “The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong."
Pompeo clarified in a further statement that China’s expected passage of a national security law meant to impose more restrictions on Hong Kong’s autonomy will not allow for Washington to “continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997.”
“After careful study of developments over the reporting period, I certified to Congress today that Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997. No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” the secretary said.
The U.S. since 1992 has had separate political, economic and trade relations with Hong Kong. The policy carried over when the territory was transferred from British rule to Beijing control in 1997 and is part of how the U.S. views China’s “one country, two systems” policy.
The separation between mainland China and Hong Kong has allowed the city-territory to flourish as a global financial capital and drawn international praise for its high degree of political and individual freedoms.
Yet recent moves by Beijing to exert more control over the territory has sparked massive and popular protests. These include opposition to a proposed law in the Hong Kong legislature in 2019 that would allow extradition to China for criminal offenses. It was later withdrawn in the face of mass protests.
Hong Kong residents took to the streets on Wednesday in opposition to Beijing’s proposed “national security law,” criticized as imposing on the territory broad authority to arrest people for acts described as “secession, subversion and terrorism.”
Protesters also opposed legislation recently introduced by Hong Kong lawmakers that would criminalize criticism of the Chinese national anthem.
The increasing efforts by China to exercise control over Hong Kong has received push back from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the European Union.
But the announcement Wednesday by Pompeo is the most concrete action taken against Beijing as relations between the U.S. and China have fallen to one of the lowest points in recent history, largely over the novel coronavirus pandemic.
President Trump has called for China to be held accountable for the virus's spread. COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, first broke out in China, and the U.S has argued that Beijing could have done more to prevent its spread.
Yet it’s unclear what the revocation of the U.S.’s “special status” for Hong Kong means for Washington’s relations with both the territory and Beijing.
The move could hinder visa-free travel access for Americans and revert their obligations to those of China’s rules. In 2018, there was known to be approximately 85,000 Americans living in Hong Kong while more than 1,300 U.S. firms, including 726 regional operations were located in the territory, according to a 2018 fact sheet by the State Department.
The U.S. trade surplus with Hong Kong is the single largest with a U.S. trading partner, according to the State Department, with a surplus of $32.6 billion in 2017.
Hong Kong largely imports American aircraft, spacecraft, electric machinery, pearls, gold, diamonds, art, meat, fruit and nuts, according to the State Department, and U.S. companies are one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment in the territory.
Beijing officials have pushed back on international calls condemning China’s efforts to exercise control over Hong Kong, saying foreign governments are interfering in Chinese sovereignty. They have threatened countermeasures, specifically against the U.S.
“I want to stress that Hong Kong is China's Hong Kong and the Hong Kong affairs are purely China's internal affairs,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in a briefing with reporters on Monday.
“The US has no right to wantonly comment or interfere. If the US is bent on harming China's interests, China will have to take all necessary measures to fight back.”