Pompeo: Beijing is undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy

People running to take cover from tear gas (© Kin Cheung/AP Images)
Members of the media take cover as police fire tear gas during a May 24 protest in Hong Kong against Beijing's national security legislation. (© Kin Cheung/AP Images)

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has broken its promises to respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and protected freedoms, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said May 27.

As a result, Pompeo was unable to certify to Congress that Hong Kong warrants continued differential treatment accorded it under U.S. law.

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

The secretary said he has reported to Congress that the PRC’s decision to impose a national security law would subject Hong Kong more directly to the Chinese Communist Party’s rule and hence break promises made by China in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984.

A joint statement released May 28 by the governments of the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom said, “China’s decision to impose a new national security law on Hong Kong lies in direct conflict with its international obligations.”

Nearly 200 leaders from more than 20 countries also signed a joint statement opposing the new national security law. The law is a “comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy, rule of law and fundamental freedoms,” the statement said, according to a Reuters report.

“China’s proposed national security law for Hong Kong is in direct conflict with its obligations under the Joint Declaration,” the foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, Dominic Raab, said. “If enacted, this law would violate Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms.”

A promise broken

When the People’s Republic of China (PRC) resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, the United Kingdom and the PRC signed the “Joint Declaration,” providing that the social and economic systems and lifestyle in Hong Kong would remain unchanged, and that certain enumerated rights and freedoms, “including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief,” would be ensured by law.

The U.S. is not a party to the Joint Declaration, but the United States treats Hong Kong as a separate customs territory from mainland China. Because of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, it enjoys differential treatment not accorded mainland China under economic and other sectors, so long as the region remains sufficiently autonomous.

The U.S. and Hong Kong also work closely together on promoting trade and investment, broadening law enforcement cooperation and bolstering educational, academic and cultural links.

Silhouette of person in street filled with tear gas, with quote about rights and freedoms in Hong Kong (State Dept./Photo: © Vincent Yu/AP Images, File)
(State Dept./Photo: © Vincent Yu/AP Images, File)

Pompeo called the National People’s Congress decision unilateral and arbitrary. “Beijing’s disastrous decision,” he said, “is only the latest in a series of actions that fundamentally undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms.”

“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,” the secretary said. “The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong as they struggle against the [Chinese Communist Party’s] increasing denial of the autonomy that they were promised.”