U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media in the briefing room at the State Department, on November 26, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Pompeo says Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, which could mean the US ends the city's special trade status


Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday announced that he had reported to Congress that Hong Kong is "no longer autonomous from China," which could drastically alter the US government's relationship with the city. 

The announcement came in response to a controversial national security law, unveiled by China's rubber-stamp legislature last week (bypassing Hong Kong's legislature and chief executive), which criminalizes sedition, secession, and foreign influence in the city. 

"Beijing's disastrous decision is only the latest in a series of actions that fundamentally undermine Hong Kong's autonomy and freedoms and China's own promises to the Hong Kong people under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a UN-filed international treaty," Pompeo said in a statement. 

The secretary of state appeared to signal the US might end Hong Kong's "special status." The city is treated differently by Washington than mainland China when it comes to trade and other areas.

"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 US 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," Pompeo said. 

In short, these developments place Hong Kong's status as a major financial hub up in the air. Pompeo's announcement also paves the way for the US to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China. 

China's intention to impose the new national security law has been widely viewed as an attempt to discard Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" model, and has led to unrest in the city's streets in recent days. Thousands have protested the move, violating coronavirus social distancing rules in the process, and have been met with tear gas and water cannons by police.

Tensions between the US and China have been high throughout President Donald Trump's tenure, but the relationship has become especially antagonistic amid the coronavirus pandemic. Trump has blamed the pandemic on China, where the virus originated. Some experts have warned that the two countries are on the brink of a new Cold War that could exacerbate the already devastating public health and economic consequences of the pandemic. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday echoed such concerns.

"This dangerous attempt to turn back the wheel of history will undo the fruits of decades long China-U.S. cooperation, dampen American's own development prospects, and put world stability and prosperity in jeopardy," Wang said.

Under the "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act," approved by Congress and Trump last year, the State Department is annually required to certify that Hong Kong retains it semi-autonomous status. Based on Pompeo's announcement today, it's now left to Trump to decide whether Hong Kong will lose special economic treatment by the US. Doing so could jeapordize his already fragile trade deal with Beijing.

Trade in goods and services between the US and Hong Kong came to more than $66 billion in 2018, according to the Office of the US Trade Representative.

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