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Mike Pompeo says Hong Kong does not warrant special treatment before 1997

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday (May 27) that Hong Kong no longer justifies special treatment under US law in the same way it did when it was under British rule, a potentially major blow for its status as an important financial center.

Pompeo’s certification to the United States Congress follows China’s announcement of a plan to impose Hong Kong new national security laws, triggering new street protests in the territory, with police firing tear gas and water cannon.

It is now up to President Donald Trump to decide to end some, if any, of the U.S. economic privileges the area now enjoys.

Trump, who was already in conflict with Beijing over trade and the new coronavirus pandemic, said on Tuesday that the United States was working on a strong response to national security laws to be announced before the end of the week.

In a statement, Pompeo said China’s plan to impose the new legislation “was just the latest in a series of actions that fundamentally undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms.”

“No reasonable person can claim today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given the facts on the ground,” he said.

He told Congress that he declared that Hong Kong no longer justifies treatment under US laws “in the same way that US laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997,” when Britain ended administration of the area and the returned control of the area to China.

“It is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong at its own discretion,” said Pompeo.

The “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” passed by the US Congress and Trump last year requires the State Department to confirm at least annually that Hong Kong maintains sufficient autonomy to justify the favorable US trade conditions that have helped it to remain a global financial center.

Under this, officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong can be subject to sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes.

China’s security proposal, unveiled in Beijing last week, was followed for months by the first major street protests in Hong Kong.

The United States, the European Union, Great Britain and others have expressed concerns about the legislation, which is widely regarded as a potential turning point for China’s freest city.

Specific details of the security invoice remain unclear and will only be determined later. It aims to tackle secession, undermining and terrorism after major street protests last year, and could have Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in Hong Kong.

MORE PROTESTS AND JUDGMENTS

The Chinese authorities and the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government say there is no threat to the city’s high degree of autonomy and the new security law will be tightened.

China has said it will take the necessary countermeasures against foreign interference.

“It is for the long-term stability of Hong Kong and China, it does not affect freedom of assembly and expression, and it does not affect the city’s status as a financial center,” said Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung to reporters.

Hong Kong police fired peppercorns and made 360 ​​arrests as thousands of people took to the streets on Wednesday with anger at the legislation.

Late in the evening, protesters were still cramming sidewalks, singing for full democracy and Hong Kong seeking independence from China, saying that this is now “the only way out.”

A heavy police presence around the Legislative Council had previously dissuaded protesters from disrupting a debate over a bill that would criminalize respect for the Chinese national anthem. That is expected to be enacted next month.

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