Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Wednesday that Hong Kong was no longer sufficiently autonomous from mainland China — an assessment that could threaten the city’s trading relationship with the U.S. and deal a blow to both American and Chinese companies operating there.
The news comes following Beijing’s decision late last week to draw up a national security law for Hong Kong. The move came after Hong Kong’s Legislative Council failed in its obligations to enact such a law since the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997. Critics say, however, that the Chinese government’s bypassing of the local legislature undermines the “high degree” of autonomy promised to Hong Kong when China resumed sovereignty over the territory of 7.4 million.
“No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” Pompeo said in a statement.
That autonomy matters because Hong Kong’s trading privileges with Washington depend on it. It’s up to the White House to decide what action it will take following Pompeo’s assessment, but options include tariffs, visa restrictions, export controls and freezing the U.S. assets of Hong Kong and Chinese officials deemed to be aiding Beijing in its encroachment on Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Officials made clear that the move is not intended to target Hong Kong citizens. The U.S. will try “to ensure the people of Hong Kong are not adversely affected to the best we can,” David R. Stilwell, assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said during a media teleconference on May 27.