'Double-edged sword': Hong Kong gov't warns US on special status

Territory warns US not to interfere over China's national security legislation, as Carrie Lam tries to rally residents.

    Hong Kong's government has told the US not to 'interfere' in its internal affairs [Vincent Yu/AP Photo]
    Hong Kong's government has told the US not to 'interfere' in its internal affairs [Vincent Yu/AP Photo]

    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam tried to rally people behind China's new national security on Friday, as the government warned the United States to stop interfering in its internal affairs, saying the withdrawal of the territory's special status could be a "double-edged sword".

    The statement came as US President Donald Trump prepared to announce later on Friday his response to the Chinese parliament's approval of national security legislation for Hong Kong, which critics say will erode the freedoms agreed on its return to Chinese rule in 1997.

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    The former British colony enjoys a high degree of autonomy under the "one country, two systems" framework that ended more than a century of colonial rule.

    "Any sanctions are a double-edged sword that will not only harm the interests of Hong Kong but also significantly those of the US," the city's government said late on Thursday.

    It added that from 2009 to 2018, the US trade surplus with Hong Kong was the biggest among all its trading partners, totalling $297bn of merchandise with 1,300 American firms are based in the city.

    The legislation will allow Chinese intelligence agencies to set up bases in the territory. Beijing argues the new legislation is necessary to tackle secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.

    Hong Kong has been convulsed by sometimes violent protests since the local government attempted to introduce an extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial. While the scale of the opposition forced the government to abandon the plan, the protests have evolved into broader calls for democracy amid concerns about China's encroachment into Hong Kong's affairs.

    'Join hands'

    After a coronavirus lull, the national security bill has ignited the first big protests in Hong Kong for months. Police moved to disperse crowds in the heart of the city's business district with pepper pellets and hundreds were arrested. Social media showed mainly young people, including schoolchildren, being escorted onto police buses.

    The US Department of State said in a report on Thursday it could "no longer certify that Hong Kong continues to warrant (differential) treatment" from Beijing.

    Trump's top economic adviser Larry Kudlow warned that Hong Kong, which has enjoyed special privileges under US law based on its high degree of autonomy from Beijing, may now need to be treated like China on trade and other financial matters.

    In a separate statement on Friday, published in several local newspapers, Hong Kong leader Lam urged "fellow citizens" to "join hands to pursue our dreams while putting aside our differences".

    She said the legislation was needed because of a "terrorist threat" and because organisations advocating "independence and self-determination" have challenged the authority of Beijing and local governments and pleaded for foreign interference.

    Antony Dapiran, a lawyer and author of City on Fire: The fight for Hong Kong, said Lam's attempt to justify the legislation was "off the charts".

    "All her claims are either false or grossly misleading," he wrote on Twitter. 

    The five demands of last year's pro-democracy protest movement included universal suffrage - listed as the "ultimate aim" in Hong Kong's mini-constitution known as the Basic Law - and an independent inquiry into police handling of the protests. There have been few calls for independence, which is anathema to Beijing.

    The security legislation, along with a bill to criminalise disrespect for China's national anthem, is seen by protesters as the latest attempt by Beijing to tighten its control of the city.

    The security legislation, expected to be enacted before September, was condemned also by the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the US in a joint statement.

    Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang cast their votes on the national security legislation for Hong Kong Special Administrative Region at the closing session of NPC in Beijing
    Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang cast their votes in favour of the national security legislation for Hong Kong at Thursday's closing session of the National People's Congress [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters] 

    Speaking at the United Nations Security Council, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Josep Borrell Fontelles expressed "deep concern" over the legislation.

    "We believe that this not in conformity with international commitments, nor with the Hong Kong basic law," he said.

    The UK has said it will give greater visa rights to the 300,000 people in Hong Kong with the British Overseas Passport including a path to citizenship if China goes ahead with the legislation.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies