HONG KONG (Reuters) – The US Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong on Saturday said it was “a sad day” for the global financial center, hours after US President Donald Trump shrugged off the city for its special treatment in an attempt to punish China.
In some of his toughest rhetoric yet, Trump said Beijing had broken its word about Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy by proposing new national security legislation and the territory no longer justified US economic privileges.
“We will take steps to revoke Hong Kong’s preferential treatment as a separate customs and travel area from the rest of China,” Trump said, adding that Washington would also impose sanctions on individuals deemed responsible for “stifling ̵
Trump told reporters at the White House that China’s move to Hong Kong was a tragedy for the world, but he did not provide a timetable for the movements, leaving Hong Kong residents, businesses and officials to ponder how far his administration will go.
“This is an emotional moment for Americans in Hong Kong and it will take companies and families a while to digest the consequences,” AmCham President Tara Joseph said in a statement.
“Many of us … have deep ties to this city and to Hong Kong people. We love Hong Kong and it is a sad day, ”she said, adding that the House would continue to work with its members to maintain Hong Kong’s status as an important business center.
This week, China’s parliament approved a decision to create laws for Hong Kong to limit sedition, isolation, terrorism and foreign involvement. Real estate security and intelligence agents may be stationed in the city for the first time – critics say putting the city’s extensive freedoms at risk.
The Beijing and Hong Kong authorities insist that the legislation will only target a small number of “troublemakers” that threaten China’s national security. They say such measures are urgently needed after months of sometimes violent anti-government protests that rocked the city last year.
Protest movements decline again as Hong Kong emerges from its shutdown of coronavirus. Protesters are expected to take to the streets on Sunday.
Trump did not mention sanctions targets, but said the announcement would “affect the full range of agreements we have with Hong Kong”, including the U.S.-Hong Kong dual-use export control treaty and more “with few exceptions”.
China’s Global Times, published by People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, said Trump’s decision was a “reckless arbitrary” step.
The Hong Kong government – which has a long history of cooperation with US counterparts, divorced from Beijing – has yet to respond, although on Thursday it warned that the move could be a double-edged sword.
More than 1,300 US companies have offices in Hong Kong and offer approximately 100,000 jobs. Over the past decade, the US trade surplus with Hong Kong has been the largest among all its trading partners, totaling $ 297 billion from 2009 to 2018.
Washington has also been quietly working with Hong Kong to fight terrorism and money laundering, and US envoys have long valued Hong Kong’s separate membership in some major international economic organizations.
“Hong Kong is a stated champion of the free markets and an effective champion of the free markets and the reduction of trade barriers,” according to a fact sheet on the US Consulate’s website.
Meanwhile, the UK is ready to offer expanded visa rights and a path to citizenship for nearly 3 million Hong Kong residents in response to China’s drive to introduce national security legislation into the former British colony.
Reporting by Greg Torode and Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Daniel Wallis and William Mallard