US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday called China’s proposed national security legislation on Hong Kong disastrous and said it could have an impact on the favourable economic treatment the territory receives from the United States.
“The United States condemns the ... proposal to unilaterally and arbitrarily impose national security legislation on Hong Kong,” Pompeo said.
“The United States strongly urges Beijing to reconsider its disastrous proposal, abide by its international obligations, and respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, democratic institutions, and civil liberties, which are key to preserving its special status under US law.”
According to Reuters, Pompeo’s statement went further than Thursday’s State Department warning and underscored how rapidly the world has responded to Beijing’s plans after Hong Kong’s mass pro-democracy protests last year.
The “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” approved by US President Donald Trump last year requires the State Department to certify at least annually that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to justify favourable trading terms that have helped it maintain its position as a world financial centre.
Robert O’Brien, Trump’s national security adviser, told Fox News on Thursday Washington has “lots of tools to express our displeasure.” Neither he nor Pompeo detailed actions Washington might take.
“There are privileges that Hong Kong accrues because it’s considered a free system. We’d have to look over whether those concessions could continue to be made,” he said.
“If China moves forward and takes strong action under this new national security law ... America will respond, and I think other countries in the world will respond, including the United Kingdom and many other of our allies and friends.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s likely challenger in November’s election, on Friday assailed Trump for what he characterised as his silence on human rights issues. If the State Department decertifies the territory, it ultimately falls to Trump to decide which of Hong Kong’s privileges to deny.