Trump to mull 'targeted' response to China's encroachment on Hong Kong


President Trump could impose personal sanctions on Chinese communist officials as part of a range of responses to Beijing’s infringement on Hong Kong’s traditional legal rights, according to a senior State Department official.

“The actions will be considered, and they will be as targeted as possible to change behavior,” David Stilwell, who leads the East Asian and Pacific Affairs bureau, told reporters. "It could be across the spectrum. It could be personnel, it can be visa sanctions ... but to preview those, I certainly wouldn't want to get ahead of the White House on this one.”

Stilwell promised a “whole of government” deliberation about how to respond to China’s plan to impose national security legislation on the territory, a former British colony that historically has had an arms-length relationship with the mainland Chinese government. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concluded earlier Wednesday “that Hong Kong does not continue to warrant” special treatment under U.S. law, but countermeasures could bring collateral damage for the people of Hong Kong.

“We will do our best to make ensure the people of Hong Kong are not adversely affected, to the best we can,” Stilwell said. “So, our approach is to mitigate the impact, globally, on the Hong Kong people, while at the same time helping Beijing understand our concerns.”

Pompeo’s condemnation of Beijing’s decision sets the table for Trump to revoke the special status that enabled Hong Kong to have a close economic relationship with the United States and other western economies. That step would deprive China of a major gateway to the world economy, according to a local pro-democracy lawmaker who acknowledged that it amounts to a “nuclear option” for the territory.

“If China is so stupid as to believe that they can do away with Hong Kong, they don't need an international financial center, then, of course, there is nothing which one can do to persuade them to do otherwise,” Hong Kong opposition lawmaker Dennis Kwok said last week. “But, if there is still some sense left, I think one should look at the importance of Hong Kong to the rest of the economy in China and come to some sort of pragmatic, sensible view about the relationship between Hong Kong and China and the importance of One Country, Two Systems.”

If they don’t, American efforts to calibrate Trump’s response to Beijing’s decision might not have much of an influence on the private sector’s calculations about Hong Kong, he added.

“Beijing is no longer acknowledging its special status,” Stilwell said. “I think businesses and others would notice these facts as well and make prudent choices, as far as whether the environment, in a year from now, is going to be conducive to fair business, transparent operations that they've enjoyed to date.”

Pompeo’s lieutenant expressed doubt that Beijing would be induced to abandon the plan. “We're not hopeful that Beijing will reverse itself, but that is one of the options, and, hopefully, they'll take that,” Stilwell said.