US voices concern over Beijing’s ‘increased intervention’ in HK, but will maintain special trading status

23-Mar-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

The United States has decided to carry on treating Hong Kong separately from the rest of China as a special trading partner, although it raised concerns the city’s autonomy has been “diminished” by what it characterised as increasing interference from Beijing.

Washington’s decision, which was outlined in the 2019 Hong Kong Policy Act Report, came against the backdrop of the US-China trade war and amid calls for the US to reassess its policy of exporting sensitive technology when treating Hong Kong and mainland China as separate customs jurisdictions.

In the latest report published on Thursday, Washington noted Beijing had taken a number of steps that appeared inconsistent with its commitment to allow Hong Kong to exercise a high degree of autonomy, as enshrined in the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution and the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

“The tempo of mainland central government intervention in Hong Kong affairs and actions by the Hong Kong government consistent with mainland direction increased, accelerating negative trends seen in previous periods,” the report read.

“As a general matter, Hong Kong maintains a sufficient although diminished degree of autonomy under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework to justify continued special treatment by the United States for bilateral agreements and programmes per the Act.”

The US-Hong Kong Policy Act has given the city a special status to be treated separately from mainland China on matters of trade and economic policy since 1992.

But it also empowered the US president to revoke the policy should the city be deemed to be “not sufficiently autonomous”.

Past reports, including last year, have concluded that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy was sufficient or “more than sufficient” to justify the special status. However, the US has hinted at having reservations by adding qualifiers such as, Hong Kong “generally” enjoyed a high degree of autonomy, or “in most areas” since 2017.

The outlawed Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) sparked a political storm last August for urging President Donald Trump’s administration to suspend the city’s special status in light of what it said was a rapid deterioration of the city’s freedom.

Last November, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) also recommended reviewing the arrangement on exporting sensitive technology as it warned Beijing’s encroachment on the city’s political system could diminish its standing as a global business hub.

Among the incidents over which the reports raised concerns were the unprecedented ban on the separatist HKNP, the subsequent expulsion of British journalist Victor Mallet who hosted a talk by party leader Andy Chan Ho-tin at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, and attempts to bar candidates from running in elections based on their political views.

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However, it had not touched on the ongoing controversy over the government’s proposal, floated last month, to allow handing over fugitives to mainland China and other jurisdictions with which the city lacks an extradition agreement.

The plan, which the administration aimed to approve by July, was denounced by the pro-democracy bloc and business sector, including the American Chamber of Commerce, which warned it would sabotage the city’s safe reputation for business.

The report also did not mention USCC’s recommendation regarding sensitive technology, nor did it address previous remark by a State Department delegation to Hong Kong about putting “additional resources” towards enforcing international sanctions against North Korea.

Last year’s report noted that Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, had turned down an extradition request from the US for the first time since 1997, and released the suspect to mainland authorities for a separate criminal trial across the border.

The fugitive was later revealed to be Macau hacker Hong Iat, who was sued by the US Securities and Exchange Commission for hacking into two law firms, and a $9 million insider trading investigation.

The latest report said mainland China had still not provided information on Hong’s case, but did say Hong Kong had assisted with two other extradition cases to the US.

On trade and governmental collaboration, the report struck a positive note, and said there continued to be deep economic and cultural ties, while cooperation with the Hong Kong government remained broad and effective.

Three local pro-democracy politicians former chief secretary Anson Chan Fong On-sang, lawmakers Dennis Kwok and Charles Mok are on a 10-day trip in the US at the invitation of the White House to talk about Hong Kong’s situation.

They were expected to pay a rare visit to the National Security Council on Friday and share their views with the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs under the Department of State, which penned the assessment report, next Tuesday.


Category: Hong Kong

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