HONG KONG - The Hong Kong government Thursday brushed off a United States commission report that urges Congress to reconsider U.S. preferential treatment of Hong Kong in trade of some products as the territory is becoming just another Chinese city under Beijing’s growing influence.
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, in a section on Hong Kong, recommended Congress direct the government to re-examine U.S. export control policy for dual-use technology with regard to Hong Kong, which is currently treated as a separate customs area from China.
As proof that Hong Kong’s autonomy is being encroached by Beijing, the report to Congress cited: Beijing’s involvement in the Hong Kong government’s rejecting a fugitive extradition request from the United States; Beijing denying permission for a U.S. navy ship to make a routine port call in Hong Kong; Hong Kong’s banning of a political party advocating for independence; and its rejection of the visa renewal application by the vice president of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Victor Mallet, apparently in retaliation for the club hosting the head of that pro-independence party as a speaker.
Other incidents cited included: Beijing administering Chinese laws inside Hong Kong’s high-speed rail terminal; the banning of pro-democracy activists from running as candidates for the legislative council, and the disqualification of some elected members; imminent legislation requiring Hong Kong residents stand when the Chinese national anthem is played at public events; and the silencing of a Hong Kong academic for touting independence as one option for the territory’s future, and the conviction of pro-democracy activists.
“The preservation of Hong Kong’s way of life and maintenance of its status as a global financial and business hub help facilitate U.S. interests,” the report said.
But it goes onto say: “U.S. considerations regarding the export of sensitive U.S. technology to Hong Kong are also predicated on the territory’s separation from the mainland. In this light, the ongoing decline in rule of law and freedom of expression due to Beijing’s increasing encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy is a troubling development.”
The commission also recommended that China’s adherence to the Basic Law, the mini-constitution in effect since the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997, be reviewed every two years by members of the U.S. Congress, and parliamentarians from Britain, the European Union and Taiwan.
They should also raise concerns with Hong Kong and Chinese officials about Beijing’s adherence to the “one country, two systems” policy, and to the preservation of a “high degree of autonomy,” freedom of expression and rule of law in Hong Kong.
Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung said the U.S. report is “unfair to Hong Kong and all accusations made are unsubstantiated.”
“Hong Kong is a separate customs territory and we have enormous freedom in trade,” Cheung told reporters. “Under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, Hong Kong has high degree of autonomy. This is a fact, and freedom is thoroughly protected.”
In an earlier statement, the government stated that “freedom of speech is not absolute” and there is no room for discussing “Hong Kong independence” while dismissing the U.S. report as foreign interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.
Also reacting was the territory’s Bar Association, which singled out the government’s handling of the visa renewal application by the journalist Mallet, who was effectively expelled with no reason given.
“Whilst the right to freedom of expression is not absolute, any restriction on its exercise in a society which respects and protects such a right must be a proportionate response … and backed by cogent and persuasive evidence,” the lawyers’ group said in a statement.
It added that without giving a reason for rejecting Mallet’s visa renewal, the government failed to convince the public its decisions are proportionate responses and damaged Hong Kong’s reputation as a society governed by the rule of law.