WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has notified Congress that the Trump administration no longer regards Hong Kong as autonomous from mainland China, setting the stage for the United States to withdraw the former British colony's preferential trade and financial status it has enjoyed since it reverted to Chinese rule 23 years ago.
The move does not carry any immediate penalties, which would have to be decided by President Donald Trump in consultation with Congress. But the administration sees it as putting China on notice that Hong Kong's perks have been put in jeopardy.
“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,” Pompeo said in a statement Wednesday.
The notice brings the future of Hong Kong squarely into the administration's numerous battles with China that have put the world's two largest economies at odds.
Pompeo's certification comes amid calls in Congress and elsewhere for the U.S. and others to react against Beijing's move to impose Chinese national security laws over the territory.
After sending the notification to Capitol Hill, Pompeo spoke by phone with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. The two men agreed China “must honor its commitments and obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”
“Both agreed the international community must support the people of Hong Kong and respond to Beijing's continued erosions of Hong Kong's autonomy,” the State Department said in a statement about the call.
Shortly after the announcement, Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called for the Senate to enact penalties. “It is imperative the Senate act on bipartisan legislation sanctioning China for the destruction of Hong Kong's democracy and freedom,” he said. “We must move quickly and decisively.”
China has reacted angrily to any suggestion that it be punished for what it considers to be a strictly domestic matter. Asked about possible U.S. retaliation over the security legislation, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in Beijing on Wednesday that China would take necessary steps to fight back against what he called “erroneous foreign interference in Hong Kong's affairs.”