US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has declared that the US no longer considers Hong Kong autonomous from China, following Beijing’s announcement that it will draft a national security law. The legislation will bypass the local legislature and will be inserted into the semi-autonomous region’s mini-constitution. The law seeks to criminalise subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorism, causing alarm over the city’s autonomy and freedoms.

October 14 US rally Hong Kong Human Rights Democracy Act Chater Garden
Photo: Tam Ming Keung/United Social Press.

The Hong Kong Policy Act mandates that the US shall review whether the city enjoys sufficient autonomy from China in order to enjoy special trade treatment. Activists believe that economic sanctions may follow Secretary Pompeo’s statement. HKFP rounds up reactions.

Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State

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. No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground.

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.

US Senator Ted Cruz

This is a sad day for liberty. The Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Republic of China have now undeniably violated Hong Kong’s autonomy at the expense of the precious freedoms the people of Hong Kong fought tirelessly and bravely to preserve. This unacceptable aggression is exactly why I introduced the Hong Kong Policy Reevaluation Act, a version of which was signed into law last year. As the Trump administration’s actions make clear, America will not stand by and allow tyrants in China to exploit the special treatment Hong Kong received under U.S. law. We will stand strong with our allies and hold the line against the spread of communism.

US Senator Marco Rubio

For years, the Chinese government and Communist Party have walked back on its commitment to ensure autonomy and freedom for Hong Kong. I applaud the Trump Administration for taking the necessary step, as required under my Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, to protect American interests and safeguard the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong. We cannot let Beijing profit from breaking the Sino-British Joint Declaration and trying to crush the spirit of Hong Kong’s people.

US Senator Josh Hawley

We were promised that giving #China permanent normal trade status & membership in the WTO would liberalize China. The scenes of violence and repression in #HongKong, to say nothing of millions of American jobs lost, should lay those claims to rest once and for all.

Joshua Wong, Demosisto

I think now is the time we will continue our international advocacy and seek for bipartisan support. And with such evil law suggested by Beijing to impose in Hong Kong, we really encourage… [the] global community to keep their eyes on Hong Kong to oppose the national security law.

Felix Chung, pro-business Liberal Party

I don’t understand why the US government claims to be supporting Hong Kong but decided to impose sanctions. Action speaks louder than words… Last year, several Hong Kong lawmakers including myself met some members of the US Congress. We had a debate on what “high degree of autonomy” means. I asked if the congresspersons or their representatives have in mind the criteria of “high degree of autonomy” and they failed to answer. It gave me a feeling that [their definitions of] high degree of autonomy are only judged by impressions, rather than clearly defined…

Hu Xijin, Global Times

Whether China’s Hong Kong is autonomous, how could it possibly be up to the US to define? Plus, it has a habitually lying Secretary of State who can tell the US Congress what Hong Kong national security law is before it’s even enacted.

Regina Ip, pro-Beijing New People’s Party

Media reported that the US may cancel Hong Kong’s trading status as a “most-favoured nation.” It has little impact on Hong Kong as the import of locally manufactured goods to the US is limited. Trading from Hong Kong to China mostly involves re-exports of which customs duty was already impacted during the Sino-US trade war.

Samuel Chu, Hong Kong Democracy Council

We strongly welcome and agree with Secretary Pompeo’s assessment that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China and that China has broken its promises of high degree of autonomy and freedoms under ‘one country, two systems’ to the people of Hong Kong, the US and the world.

This unprecedented de-certification of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the Hong Kong Policy Act and Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act serves as a final warning to Beijing and China that Hong Kong belongs to the world, and not to China.

Brian Dooley, Human Rights First

China is about to impose a frightening new security law on Hong Kong, designed to stamp out dissent. The city’s independence is fast disappearing, and the first targets to sanction should be those in Beijing. Senior Chinese officials should be top of the list to hit with asset freezes and denial of visas to the United States. Sometimes the Trump administration talks big on human rights in China; today it’s time to act.

Hong Kong officials who abuse human rights should also be targeted for sanctions.There has to be a reckoning for those who crackdown on peaceful protests.

US senator Marsha Blackburn

Today is a day to remember in the fight for universal human rights. In 1997, Hong Kong was granted special treatment under U.S. law. But the Chinese Communist Party slowly eroded Hong Kong’s autonomy to the point that it would not be in good faith to continue granting Hong Kong special treatment. As always, I stand with the Hong Kong democracy activists.

Jim McGovern, US Bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China

This is a sad, but necessary statement in response to Beijing flagrantly violating its international commitments and now imposing a draconian security law on #HongKong.

US Mission to the United Nations

[T]he United States called today for a virtual meeting of the Security Council to discuss these acts and the PRC’s proposed national security law that would threaten Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and civil liberties. Such actions confirm the PRC’s contempt and complete disregard for its international obligations.

Unsurprisingly, the PRC has refused to allow this virtual meeting to proceed in the Security Council. This is another example of the Chinese Communist Party’s fear of transparency and international accountability for its actions, and belief that it can exploit the current global health pandemic to distract the world from its intended assault on Hong Kong and abrogation of its own commitments to the Hong Kong people.

Meanwhile, on Hong Kong‘s Reddit-like LIHKG online forum, many netizens celebrated Pompeo’s statement. Many were of the view that US sanctions are the first step in “mutual destruction” with Beijing and the local government. Some users consider such a path to be essential to the success of the year-long pro-democracy protests.

‘SherlokHolmes’ – user on Hong Kong’s LIHKG forum

Vested interests were in exchange for the liberty of the next generation. Now we lost both: easy money and liberty. Fair enough.

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.