The US Consul General Hanscom Smith said “let Hong Kong be Hong Kong” on Friday, a day after Beijing approved a resolution to implement laws in the city to punish acts that it deems as threatening to national security.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Hong Kong would no longer be considered autonomous from China. The 2020 Hong Kong Policy Act report submitted to Congress on Thursday also concluded that the city is no longer sufficiently autonomous to warrant differential treatment under US law.

Hanscom Smith
Hanscom Smith. Photo: US Consulate General Hong Kong.

Smith told reporters at a closed media briefing on Friday that the US has seen a “steady erosion” of Hong Kong’s autonomy owing to a variety of actions by Beijing. Washington is concerned that the “unilateral and arbitrary” introduction of the national security legislation – which criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference – is the latest incursion into the city’s dwindling autonomy, Smith said.

The US consul general said the next step is for the White House to decide on its follow-up action, which some have predicted to involve a termination of the economic and trade privileges Hong Kong currently enjoys.

“The actions will be as targeted as possible to change behaviour, but at the same time we will do our best to ensure that the people of Hong Kong are not adversely affected,” Smith said.

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Photo: May James/HKFP.

“We have a very simple message, that is let Hong Kong be Hong Kong,” he added.

Smith did not directly respond to questions about the concerns of American businesses based in the city. He only said they are in a “close relationship” with the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong – who have urged for clarification on the national security law. They said there are risks to Hong Kong’s status as a global business hub and the chamber needed to “get a good sense of where they are.”

Smith added it was in the interests of the US to preserve and promote Hong Kong’s autonomy, as spelt out in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. He added that the US recognises Hong Kong as a part of China, and has no interest in destabilising the city.

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Photo: May James/HKFP.

“The goal was that mainland China would become more like Hong Kong, and instead unfortunately, we’ve seen efforts to make Hong Kong more like mainland China,” he said.

HSBC in firing line

Meanwhile on Friday, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying said people who hold HSBC bank accounts, in particular local government officials and mainland consultative body delegates, should be cautious about keeping accounts at the British bank.

“It has been more than a week, and HSBC has still not shown its position on the national security law,” Leung wrote on Facebook.

The vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) slammed Thursday’s joint statement by the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada against Beijing’s move to implement national security laws in Hong Kong as “interference with China’s internal affairs.”

Leung Chun-ying
Leung Chun-ying. File photo: GovHK.

Leung said most of HSBC’s profits come from China, but the majority of people on the board of directors and management are British. He said the multinational investment bank cannot earn money from China on one hand, and engage in acts that damage Chinese sovereignty and hurt the feelings of Chinese people on the other hand. Whether HSBC would echo the UK government’s view on the national security law would be of a “high degree of concern,” he said.

“Chris Patten has openly said: ‘China is an enemy to us now, China must pay a price.’ I want to tell the British people, China will also draw a line in the sand, see who will pay a bigger price,” Leung said.

Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.