A top White House aide renewed a warning on Sunday that the US might revoke Hong Kong’s special trading privileges if China enacts a tough new security law covering the territory.
The warning from national security advisor Robert O’Brien came amid soaring tensions between Washington and Beijing, and only hours after China’s foreign minister Wang Yi warned that the two countries seemed poised “at the brink of a new Cold War.”
Referring to Beijing’s 1984 agreement to grant Hong Kong, a former British colony, substantial autonomy through 2047, O’Brien told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “it looks like they’re violating that agreement.”
“I can’t see how Hong Kong remains an Asian financial center if the Chinese Communist Party goes through and implements its national security law and takes over Hong Kong,” he said.
“That’d be a tragedy for the people of Hong Kong and it would also be very bad for China.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said Friday that the proposed law — which China’s rubber-stamp legislature is expected to act on quickly — would be a “death knell for the high degree of autonomy Beijing promised for Hong Kong.”
He said that China’s continued respect for Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and civil liberties was “key to preserving its special status under US law.”
Washington and Beijing have also jousted sharply over blame for the coronavirus pandemic, and over the role of the World Health Organization.
A US law passed last year requires the secretary of state to certify each year that Hong Kong remains largely autonomous; absent that, the territory risks losing trade privileges not enjoyed by mainland China.
The new Chinese law would enforce punishment for “subversion, treason and sedition” in the city, which would allow Beijing to crack down on protesters and dissidents.
Hong Kong was swept by massive and occasionally violent pro-democracy protests last year, and thousands gathered there Sunday to protest the proposed law, facing off with police.
Hong Kong residents enjoy rights – including freedom of speech – unseen on the mainland, and the city has its own legal system and trade status.