US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he certified to Congress on Wednesday that Hong Kong no longer enjoys a high degree of autonomy from China — a decision that could result in the loss of Hong Kong’s special trading status with the US and threaten the autonomous region’s standing as an international financial hub.
“The State Department is required by the Hong Kong Policy Act to assess the autonomy of the territory from China. After careful study of developments over the reporting period, I certified to Congress today that Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997,” he said in a statement. “No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground.”
His decision comes after Beijing introduced controversial national security legislation for Hong Kong — legislation that Pompeo again denounced in Wednesday’s statement as a “disastrous decision.” Last week, the top US diplomat warned that the passage of the legislation would be a “death knell” for Hong Kong’s autonomy.
The proposed law has prompted protests in Hong Kong and has been denounced internationally, with observers warning it could curtail many of the fundamental political freedoms and civil liberties guaranteed in the agreement handing the city over from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, Hong Kong retains limited democracy and civil liberties despite being under Beijing’s control. The autonomous region also holds a special trade status with the US, which grants it certain exemptions on trade that are not enjoyed by mainland China.
Last year, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in support of the region’s pro-democracy protesters. Under that law, the US must annually verify to Congress that Hong Kong remains autonomous from China, or it risks losing its special status.
Pompeo said the decision on Hong Kong’s autonomy “gives (him) no pleasure,” noting that “Hong Kong and its dynamic, enterprising, and free people have flourished for decades as a bastion of liberty.”
“But sound policy making requires a recognition of reality,” he said. “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.”
Pompeo said in past weeks that he had delayed the required report to Congress because they were “closely watching what’s going on there.”