The United States on Monday took first steps towards dismantling Hong Kong's special status under U.S. law, saying it will stop exporting defense equipment originating in the U.S. to the territory, as tensions over the financial center's autonomy from Beijing escalate.

"The United States is forced to take this action to protect U.S. national security," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. "We can no longer distinguish between the export of controlled items to Hong Kong or to mainland China."

The decision to halt defense exports and restrict the territory's access to high technology products came hours after China said it would impose new visa restrictions on U.S. citizens, a move that was itself a response to an earlier escalation on the part of the United States.

"We cannot risk these items falling into the hands of the People's Liberation Army, whose primary purpose is to uphold the dictatorship of the CCP by any means necessary," Pompeo said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

U.S. considers further measures

The U.S. Commerce Department said it was suspending "preferential treatment to Hong Kong over China, including the availability of export license exceptions." Further actions to eliminate Hong Kong's status were being evaluated, it said.

China is moving forward with a security law that would punish perceived subversion in Hong Kong. Critics of the law say that it could be used to silence dissent in the special administrative region, where anti-government protests have taken place over the past year.

In May, U.S. President Donald Trump had said he would revoke Hong Kong's special status, including the city's recognition as a unique customs territory separate from mainland China, as the territory was no longer autonomous from Beijing. The move could threaten Hong Kong's position as a global financial hub.

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

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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