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What you need to know about the U.S. announcement that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China

May 29, 2020

What is happening with the U.S. announcement on Hong Kong and China?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Wednesday his report to Congress the U.S. State Department’s determination that “Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, given facts on the ground.” The Secretary concluded his momentous tweet, “The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong.”

Sec. Pompeo expanded his remarks in a press statement, “Last week, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) National People’s Congress announced its intention to unilaterally and arbitrarily impose national security legislation on Hong Kong. Beijing’s disastrous decision is only the latest in a series of actions that fundamentally undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms and China’s own promises to the Hong Kong people under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a UN-filed international treaty.”

What is the significance of this announcement?

China’s increasingly aggressive posture in Hong Kong, most recently by proposing such a sweepingly expansive security law that would criminalize sedition, foreign influence, and secession, threatens the global economy, human rights, and freedom in the island-city.

Since the 1997 transition from the United Kingdom to China, Hong Kong has operated under a system of law that guaranteed a “one country, two systems” arrangement for the city. Under this system, Hongkongers have enjoyed economic and civil freedoms that people in mainland China do not. 

The United States–Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 lays out the framework for the U.S. to treat Hong Kong differently than mainland China, by designating the municipality as a separate customs and export jurisdiction under U.S. law. This special treatment, which allowed Hong Kong to emerge as a global financial city, is contingent upon the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) treating Hong Kong with a “high degree of autonomy” from the mainland. In accordance with the act, the State Department regularly assesses whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous from China to justify treatment under U.S. law different from that accorded China. If not, the president is authorized under the law to suspend the special treatment. 

This is the first time since the Hong Kong Policy Act was enacted the State Department certified that Hong Kong does not maintain a high degree of autonomy from Mainland China.

What does this mean for Hong Kong?

China is remaking Hong Kong in its own image, and freedom-loving men and women on the island-city and around the world are concerned. Hongkongers have watched how the communist government treats its citizens, severely restricting their freedoms of religion, assembly, and speech.

In his remarks, Sec. Pompeo said that “Hong Kong and its dynamic, enterprising, and free people have flourished for decades as a bastion of liberty, and this decision gives me no pleasure. But sound policy making requires a recognition of reality. While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself.”

China censors internet use and has begun developing a social credit system that will allow the CCP even more draconian monitoring and ruthless control of its citizens through incentives of punishment and reward. Most chilling is China’s treatment and persecution of Christians, Uyghur Muslims, and other religious minorities. In January of 2020, China sentenced Pastor Wang Yi, leader of Early Rain Covenant to nine years in prison for “inciting subversion” through his unsanctioned church. Since April 2017, China has detained more than one million Muslims in what the Communist Party refers to as “educational training centers.” These religious minorities are being held to indoctrinate them and turn them into loyal, Chinese-speaking supporters of the party.

What will happen next? 

For years, Hong Kong has been an economic trading hub in Asia, and the U.S. and Hong Kong do $67 billion in bilateral trade each year, and more than 1,300 U.S. companies have operations in Hong Kong, and around 80,000 U.S. citizens currently reside in the city.

The United States could suspend the special status of Hong Kong, which could mean that Hong Kong will be treated just like any other Chinese city on economic terms, and perhaps on cultural and political terms. There are also many other diplomatic and economic policy changes that the U.S. could pursue. President Trump has not yet made any announcements on how the United States will proceed after Sec. Pompeo’s announcement, but he’s expected to do so soon.

The ERLC will continue to monitor the situation as it develops, especially as policies affect fundamental human rights and the cause of religious freedom.

Chelsea Patterson Sobolik

Chelsea Patterson Sobolik serves as a Policy Director in the Washington, D.C. office of the ERLC. Previously, she worked in the U.S. House of Representatives on pro-life policies, domestic and international religious freedom, adoption, and foster care issues. Chelsea is the author of Longing for Motherhood - Holding onto Hope … Read More