Hong Kong's autonomy from China gone: Pompeo


WASHINGTON: US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said he had certified on Wednesday that Hong Kong no longer warrants special treatment under US law as it did when it was under British rule, a potentially big blow to its status as a major financial hub. Pompeo’s certification to the US Congress follows China’s announcement of a plan to impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong which has triggered fresh unrest in the territory, with police firing tear gas and water cannon.

It now falls to President Donald Trump to decide to end some, all, or none of the US economic privileges which the territory enjoys now. Pompeo made no recommendations for follow-up action in his statement. But people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday the Trump administration was considering suspending Hong Kong’s preferential tariff rates for exports to the US as part of its response to China’s plan.

Trump could also opt for targeted sanctions against Chinese officials, government entities and businesses involved in enforcing the new legislation, according one of the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Trump, already at odds with Beijing over trade and the Covid-19 pandemic, had said on Tuesday Washington was working on a strong response. Any move by the Trump administration to curtail trade and economic relations with Hong Kong would deal a major blow to the territory. And it would be a harsh punishment for China, which relies on the thriving city of ports and skyscrapers on the edge of the South China Sea as a nexus for transactions with other countries.

Pompeo said China’s plan to impose the new legislation was “only the latest in a series of actions that fundamentally undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms. “No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” he said.He said he certified that Hong Kong no longer warrants treatment under US laws “in the same manner as US laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997”, when Britain ended its administration of the territory and returned it to China. “It is now clear that China is modelling Hong Kong after itself,” he said.

The “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” approved by the US Congress and Trump last year requires the state department to certify at least annually that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to justify the favourable US trading terms.