In a significant development, U.S. President Donald Trump has signed into law a congressional legislation which backs the pro-democracy uprising in Hong Kong despite objections from China.
The development midst Washington and Beijing trying to hammer out a deal to end a trade war which has dragged China’s economy to its 30-year low.
The legislation, approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate and by all but one lawmaker in the House of Representatives, requires the State Department to annually certify, that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to justify favorable U.S. trading terms.
This is crucial for Hong Kong if it wants to maintain its position as a world financial center. The U.S. law also threatens sanctions for human rights violations.
Further, the U.S. Congress also passed another bill, which Trump signed into law, which bans the export of crowd control ammunition, including rubber bullets, stun guns, teargas and pepper spray, to the Hong Kong police.
“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi (Jinping), China, and the people of Hong Kong. They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all,” said Trump in a statement.
China had promised to allow Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years when it regained sovereignty over the city in 1997. This pledge has formed the basis of the territory’s special status under U.S. law.
Protesters China has steadily usurped freedom in Hong Kong.
China has denounced the legislation as interference in its affairs and has vowed counter-measures.
The measure by Trump is likely to be a signal to China that he is willing to act if Beijing were to intensify its crackdown in Hong Kong.
While many see the bill having mere symbolic value, the bills’ provisions however have the potential, if implemented, to change the territory’s status to that of any other Chinese city. In the event this were to happen, Hong Kong would become just another Chinese port, companies that use the territory’s role as a middleman or for trans-shipping, are likely to take their business elsewhere.
Incidentally, both bills contain strong waivers that allows the president to block their provisions on national-security and national-interest grounds.
According to the State Department, 1,300 U.S. companies operate there, including nearly every major U.S. financial firm.
In 2018, trade between Hong Kong and the United States was estimated to be worth $67.3 billion, with the United States running a $33.8 billion surplus – its biggest with any country or territory.