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Pompeo Declares Hong Kong Should No Longer Be Considered Autonomous

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Pompeo Declares Hong Kong Should No Longer Be Considered Autonomous

2020-05-28 13:12:05

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Mike Pompeo (Image source: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons)

Relations between China and the United States have been strained for most of Donald Trump's time in office. He created a trade war with the other nation, and while they at times seemed close to settling it, they never really did. Now with the coronavirus pandemic that originated in Wuhan, it's put just that much more stress on the relationship. 

It's about to get even more strained. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made Congress aware on Wednesday that Hong Kong should no longer be considered autonomous because of moves China has made with Hong Kong. In other words, China can't have its Hong Kong cake and eat it too.

Trump will need to decide what happens next. Chinese officials could be hit with sanctions, higher tariffs, and visa restrictions. 

The assistant secretary of state for East Asia Pacific Affairs, David Stilwell, said the Trump administration has a "very long list" of possible next steps but wouldn't be more specific than that. He added that the effort will be made to try to affect Beijing while mitigating the impact on the people of Hong Kong and the United States.

"We're not hurting anybody; we're simply responding to what the [People's Republic of China] is doing," said Stilwell. 

With the already strained relationship, China announced a proposed law last week. This would allow the Chinese Communist Party to deploy "relevant national security organs" to Hong Kong. This would allow it to legally operate mainland security services in Hong Kong. Pompeo referred to it as a "death knell" for a region previously ruled by Britain until 1997.

In a statement, the secretary of state called this action "only the latest in a series of actions that fundamentally undermine Hong Kong's autonomy and freedoms." He added that as a result, Hong Kong no longer should receive special treatment that it was allowed when it was under British rule. 

"No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground," asserted Pompeo.

"Hong Kong and its dynamic, enterprising, and free people have flourished for decades as a bastion of liberty, and this decision gives me no pleasure," he continued. "But sound policymaking requires a recognition of reality. While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself." 

He warned that this Chinese law will jeopardize the special status that has given Hong Kong a favorable United States trading relationship. It's exempt from tariffs that the Trump administration imposed on the mainland.  In 2018, trade between the U.S. and Hong Kong was more than $66 billion.

Decertifying Hong Kong for special treatment is just one step of many that the U.S. is considering. Removing Hong Kong's special status and sanctions against specific people and entities in Beijing is just one of the other options. 

It's unclear what options the U.S. can take to respond to this change that wouldn't hurt Hong Kong residents and American businesses that are invested in Hong Kong.

"The PRC, I think, has tried to paint this as, it would respect the economic freedom in Hong Kong without feeling obligated to respect political freedom," said Stillwell. "You can't have one without the other. We know that's the case. So the U.S. will do what we can and thread the needle as best we can." 

Jude Blanchette, the holder of the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also considered how this change would affect the U.S.

"Irrespective of the specific actions, this is an inflection point for the economic and political future of Hong Kong in terms of U.S. companies and investment," said Blanchette. 

"If Beijing is unlikely to shift the trajectory, what do we get for putting Hong Kong's economic future at risk? And that's unclear. We've got to take action, make a public stand against encroachment by Beijing. The implications are profound."

Regardless of the official U.S. response to this, it is sure to strain the relationship with China even further. Pompeo is often criticizing Beijing and accusing the Chinese government of covering up the coronavirus origins. In turn, China's state media outlets have referred to Pompeo as evil, insane, a liar, and the "common enemy of mankind." 

A Chinese expert at Brookings Institution, Richard Bush noted that this will enforce to China that the U.S. is looking for a change in regime. "This will reconfirm for China that our intentions are quite hostile," he said. "It will certainly contribute to deepening hostility, resentment, and fear on each side."

U.S. congressional leaders, representing both sides of the aisle and both chambers, also spoke of how this will change the relations between the U.S. and Hong Kong. 

"With this latest national security legislative proposal, Beijing demonstrates that it would rather smother Hong Kong — a city of tremendous value to China and to the world — than keep its promise to give Hong Kong the latitude to manage its own internal affairs," said House Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot Engel (D-NY) last week.

"If the National People's Congress enacts this proposed national security legislation, its actions not only imperil Hong Kong's special status but Beijing's own interests," he added. 

"We continue to support the people of Hong Kong and their aspirations to live free from Beijing's grip," said Senate Foreign Relations Chair James Risch (R-ID) on Wednesday.

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