US Reconsiders Hong Kong's Special Treatment, Seeks China Sanctions

US Reconsiders Hong Kong's Special Treatment, Seeks China Sanctions
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

What you need to know

U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo said Hong Kong no longer operates autonomously from Beijing. Meanwhile, in Congress, proposed sanctions linked to China's repression of Uyghur Muslims passed overwhelmingly.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told lawmakers on Wednesday that President Donald Trump's administration no longer sees Hong Kong as autonomous from mainland China. While the move does not carry any immediate consequences, it is the first step needed to revoke the former British colony's preferential trade and financial status.

"No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground," Pompeo said. "Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997."

Hong Kong was transferred from a British to a Chinese territory 23 years ago and was to maintain autonomy from the Chinese government for 50 years. However, the security bill that Beijing has been pushing for Hong Kong in recent days has the potential to change the policy mainland China calls "one country, two systems."

While specific details of the security bill remain unclear, it is feared that, if enacted, it could cause Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in Hong Kong.

"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," Pompeo said.

Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
Protesters gesture with five fingers, signifying the "Five demands - not one less" as they march along a downtown street during a pro-democracy protest against Beijing's national security legislation in Hong Kong, Sunday, May 24, 2020.

Potential financial earthquake

U.S. lawmakers passed a law in 2019 to support pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, but it required the city remain autonomous and able to maintain its separate status with the U.S. for trading purposes. That is now on the brink of collapse.

"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," said Pompeo, adding that the Trump administration was considering suspending Hong Kong's preferential tariff rates for exports to the United States.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung disagreed with the U.S. diplomat.

"It's for the long-term stability of Hong Kong and China, it won't affect the freedom of assembly and speech and it won't affect the city's status as a financial center," said Cheung, referring to the security bill.

China rejected the suggestion it be punished for what it sees as a domestic issue.

Asked about possible U.S. retaliation over the security legislation, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China would fight back against what he called "erroneous foreign interference in Hong Kong's affairs."

Protests in the streets

Hong Kong police arrested 360 people on Wednesday as thousands of people once again protested the controversial security measure introduced last week and other measures, including a bill that would make it illegal to insult the Chinese national anthem

Activists have said the bill would abolish basic freedoms for Hong Kong residents as well as visitors. The city has seen months of protests, even during the coronavirus pandemic, against Chinese security bills for the semi-autonomous city.  

The United States, European Union, and other nations have expressed concern over the bill. 

Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
Posters criticizing the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 regarding the future of Hong Kong lie in piles on the ground during a protest against Beijing's national security legislation in in Hong Kong, Sunday, May 24, 2020. 

Congress also targets Uyghur abuse

Also on Wednesday, Congress overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill to impose sanctions on Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups — with its timing seen as a possible reaction to the security bill.

The legislation, which passed 413-1, can now be passed into law by U.S. President Donald Trump. The President didn't say whether he would sign the legislation, but has earlier indicated that he could "very strongly" consider doing so.

Trump now has 180 days to put together a list of Chinese officials the U.S. government will sanction. The key tenets of the legislation include an assessment of harassment and threats to Uyghurs and other Chinese nationals in the U.S., and assessment of China's acquisition of technology for surveillance of persecuted minorities.

"Beijing's barbarous actions targeting the Uyghur people are an outrage to the collective conscience of the world", said Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, while passing the legislation. Peter Urwin, a senior program officer at the Uyghur Human Rights Project, a U.S. non-profit, told the Associated Press that this is the first "concrete step by a government to penalize China over the treatment of Uyghurs."

This article was originally published on Deutsche Welle. Read the original article here.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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