U.S. Congressional leaders vowed to review Hong Kong’s special trading privileges if lawmakers pass a controversial extradition bill, lending support to protesters who have blocked streets over concerns of Chinese encroachment.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, issued a statement Wednesday calling for legislative action in the U.S. Congress to “reassess” whether Hong Kong is “sufficiently autonomous” under the One Country, Two Systems framework that guides its relations with Beijing. She said she looked forward to the introduction of legislation in coming days that she referred to as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.
“The extradition bill imperils the strong U.S.-Hong Kong relationship that has flourished for two decades,” Pelosi said. “If it passes, the Congress has no choice but to reassess whether Hong Kong is ‘sufficiently autonomous.’”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, issued a similar statement saying that Hong Kong residents “rightly view” the extradition bill “as another erosion of the rule of law and tightening of Beijing’s grip on their imperiled autonomy.”
The statements are the strongest indication yet that Congress may act on a recommendation issued last year by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission to reconsider Hong Kong’s special trading status for some sensitive U.S. technology imports. The move would be a severe blow to Hong Kong’s reputation as a investment destination.
Under the terms of the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, the U.S. agreed to treat the former British colony as fully autonomous for trade and economic matters even after China took control in 1997. That means Hong Kong is exempt from Trump’s punitive tariffs on China and enjoys U.S. support its participation in international bodies like the World Trade Organization.
While the U.S. State Department said last year it sees no reason to scrap Hong Kong’s special status, one clause in the law particularly worries the city’s business elites: The U.S. president can issue an executive order suspending privileges in a particular area if he determines it isn’t sufficiently autonomous from Beijing.
There was no further word from the Trump administration Wednesday. On Tuesday, the State Department issued a statement expressing “grave concern” about the extradition policy, warning that it could further undermine the city’s freedoms and damage the business environment.
Rolling coverage of Hong Kong’s protests
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in June to oppose a bill that would allow extraditions from Hong Kong to the mainland, the biggest challenge to the China-backed local government since 2014.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Wednesday to prevent demonstrators from occupying the legislative building where the bill is set to be debated. The demonstrators have pledged to stay on the streets until the government withdraws the legislation. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has meanwhile argued that it is necessary in order to close a legal loophole that makes the city a refuge for criminals.