Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed to Congress that Hong Kong no longer deserves special treatment under US law.
The statement could have far-reaching effects on US-Hong Kong trade.
“No sensible person today can say that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy vis-à-vis China given the local facts,” he said in a statement.
Beijing is expected to impose a controversial new security law on the territory.
The security law is “only the latest in a series of measures that fundamentally undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms,” said Pompeo.
“It is now clear that China will model Hong Kong on its own,” he added.
The Hong Kong police have arrested hundreds of people amid recent unrest against the mainland.
What is the meaning of Pompeo’s statement?
So far, the United States has granted Hong Kong – a global financial and trade center – a special status under US law. The destination dates from when the area was a British colony and offers favorable trading conditions.
However, since last year, this status has been dependent on the U.S. Secretary of State regularly certifying that Hong Kong maintains sufficient autonomy from mainland China.
If the Secretary of State does not certify this, the US Congress can revoke Hong Kong’s special trade status.
This would mean treating Hong Kong the same as mainland China for trade and other purposes.
Today I told Congress that Hong Kong is no longer independent of China given the local facts. The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong.
– Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo), May 27, 2020
What would be the effects of revoking the status?
This could jeopardize the multi-billion dollar trade between Hong Kong and the United States and prevent people from investing there in the future.
This would also harm mainland China, which Hong Kong uses as a kind of intermediary for transactions with the rest of the world. Mainland companies and multinational companies use the area as an international or regional base.
In addition, the Hong Kong law on human rights and democracy passed by the United States last year enables sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong. Sanctions include visa bans and asset freezes.
Shortly after Mr. Pompeo’s statement, prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong asked the leaders of the United States, Europe and Asia to rethink Hong Kong’s special status.
Beijing’s security law would “do massive damage to expats and investors in Hong Kong,” he said, and maintaining autonomy is the “only way” to protect businesses.
The US nuclear option for Hong Kong will infuriate Beijing
Zhaoyin Feng, BBC Chinese, Washington
Mr Pompeo’s recent statement warns Beijing that preferential treatment for the special administrative region is at risk.
It has an enormous economic impact, but the geopolitical impact can be even greater. The move is likely to encounter angry reactions from Beijing and further jeopardize the already fragile US-China relations that appear to be in free fall given the tensions over trade, pandemic, and technological rivalry.
An important question is how far the lifting of Hong Kong’s special trade status will help Hong Kong people to fight for their autonomy and freedoms. Or are Hong Kong people mainly punished while limiting strategic leverage over China?
What is Beijing’s Security Act about?
Beijing has proposed to introduce it in Hong Kong.
It would ban treason, secession, turmoil, and subversion, and China says it is necessary to fight violent protests that have grown on the territory.
The anti-mainland mood was fueled last year by a proposed – and later discarded – bill that would have made it possible to extradite criminal suspects to China.
Critics say the security law is a direct attempt to restrict Hong Kong’s freedoms in the mini-constitution that was agreed when sovereignty was returned to China in 1997.
Hong Kong director-general Carrie Lam has denied that the law, which is due to be voted on this week and may come into force in late June, will limit the rights of Hong Kong residents.
A group of 200 high-ranking politicians from around the world made a joint statement criticizing China’s plan.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump said the US would announce a “very strong” response to the proposed legislation before the week was out. China’s plans had already been condemned by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who described it as a “death blow” to the city’s freedoms.
Great Britain, Australia and Canada have also expressed their “deep concern”.