The United States on Thursday warned China against imposing new national security legislation on Hong Kong, saying a high degree of autonomy and respect for human rights were key to preserving the territory’s special status, US Department of State spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
“Any effort to impose national security legislation that does not reflect the will of the people of Hong Kong would be highly destabilizing, and would be met with strong condemnation from the United States and the international community,” Ortagus said in emailed comments.
China is set to impose new national security legislation on Hong Kong after last year’s pro-democracy unrest, drawing a warning from US President Donald Trump that the US would react “very strongly” against the attempt to gain more control over the former British colony.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act approved by Trump last year requires the US Department of State to certify at least annually that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to justify the favourable US trading terms that have helped it maintain its position as a world financial centre.
If the Department of State decided to decertify the territory, it still would ultimately fall to Trump whether to end some, all, or none of the privileges Hong Kong currently enjoys.
Ending Hong Kong’s special status would be a big blow for US firms. According to the State Department, 85,000 US citizens lived in Hong Kong in 2018 and more than 1,300 US companies operate there, including nearly every major US financial firm.
Beijing’s statements on the issue already undermine China’s commitments and obligations in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Ortagus said.
“A stable, prosperous Hong Kong that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms is in the interest of Hong Kong, China, the United States, and the broader international community,” she said.