The Trump administration on Wednesday nixed three bilateral trade agreements with Hong Kong related to extradition and tax agreements in response to China’s encroachment on the former British territory’s sovereignty.
Most recently, China imposed strict national security laws over the region, which contain 66 articles criminalizing acts as succession, subversion, terrorism and collusion. Pro-democracy activists were outraged that the new laws would be used to eliminate dissent and tighten Beijing’s control.
“The Chinese Communist Party chose to crush the freedoms and autonomy of the people of Hong Kong,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted.
The State Department cited Beijing’s violation of its pledge to allow Hong Kong broad autonomy for 50 years after it was handed back to China from the British in 1997. This was known as the “one country, two systems” arrangement, granting Hong Kong its own customs territory and legal system.
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Residents of Hong Kong, before the CCP began to infringe, were afforded certain Western-style liberties not afforded to those on the mainland, such as the right to public dissent.
The U.S. began to pare back Hong Kong’s special status in late June, halting defense exports and restricting access to high technology products. It imposed sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials, including Hong Kong’s pro-China leader Carrie Lam, involved in enforcing the new security law.
These laws allowing preferential economic treatment of Hong Kong over China have for years allowed it to be a financial hub. Today’s suspensions cover reciprocal tax exemptions on income from international shipping, the surrender of fugitives and the transfer of convicted prisoners. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the agreements had been suspended or thrown out entirely.
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State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that Wednesday’s decisions were the result of the Chinese Communist Party’s “drastic steps to erode the high degree of autonomy that Beijing itself promised” to Hong Kong.
“These steps underscore our deep concern regarding Beijing’s decision to impose the National Security Law, which has crushed the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong,” Ortagus said.
“President Trump has made clear that the United States will, therefore, treat Hong Kong as ‘one country, one system’ and take action against individuals who have crushed the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong,” Ortagus continued.
The latest U.S. steps come at a time when tensions between the U.S. and China have reached a new high. The Trump administration lays blame at the Chinese for failing to contain the coronavirus outbreak that has killed over 783,000 globally.
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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar visited Taiwan, a move that rankled Chinese officials, who consider the island to be a wayward province. Azar was the highest level U.S. cabinet official to visit Taiwan since the 1979 break in formal diplomatic ties.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.