Hong Kong has condemned Donald Trump’s threat to revoke the territory’s special trade privileges after Beijing moved to impose anti-subversion laws on the Asian financial hub.
The US president unveiled a series of measures on Friday targeting Beijing and Hong Kong, which included plans to sanction government officials and to revoke the territory’s preferential trading status.
The Hong Kong government on Saturday said the Trump administration continued to “smear and demonise the legitimate rights and duty of our sovereign to safeguard national security in Hong Kong”.
“Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China. Any suggestion that China does not have the right to protect its own territory from separatists, terror and anarchy does not stand up to scrutiny and smacks of hypocrisy and double standards,” the government said.
The US move was also condemned by Beijing. Hua Chunying, the foreign ministry spokesperson, said it was “ridiculous” that US politicians were claiming that the security laws were an effort to “take over” Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is part of China. Could someone be accused of taking over his own hand?” she said.
She also referenced the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, who died after a policeman knelt on his neck for eight minutes, after Morgan Ortagus, the state department spokesperson, called on “freedom loving people around the world” to stand up to the Chinese Communist party.
“I can’t breathe,” Ms Hua tweeted, repeating the words that Floyd shouted to the police officer before he died.
In Hong Kong, Teresa Cheng, the justice minister, described the logic behind Mr Trump’s threat as “completely false and wrong” and defended Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong as necessary and legal.
The Hong Kong government has fallen into line to support China’s rubber-stamp parliament, which moved to introduce security legislation on the territory this week.
But many of Hong Kong’s leading legal scholars as well as the Hong Kong Bar Association, which represents more than 1,500 barristers in the territory, said the proposed law violated Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
It is not clear how Mr Trump will go about revoking Hong Kong’s special trade status, which is creating uncertainty for businesses in the territory.
Mr Trump also said he would withdraw Hong Kong’s preferential status as a separate travel territory from mainland China, which could have implications for visa-free travel between the territory and the US.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong called on Washington to provide guidance for US companies.
“American business in Hong Kong is smack in the middle of the US-China friction and we can’t seem to catch a break these days,” said Tara Joseph, president of AmCham.
“There won’t be a rush for the exits, but every company is likely to review their footprint here and decide how to move forward.”
Raymond Young, chief executive of the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong, downplayed the seriousness of the US threat.
“The impact on US manufacturers in Hong Kong is not as great as touted by the Americans,” Mr Young said, adding that US exports made up only a small portion of Hong Kong total exports.
Joshua Wong, the pro-democracy activist, called for an “international alliance to stand with Hong Kong”. He said actions “speak louder than words” and that it was important to find “different kinds of tools to put pressure on Beijing”.
Hong Kong has become the focus of US-China tensions after the relationship between the world’s biggest economies deteriorated markedly when Mr Trump blamed China for the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The UK also retaliated after China said it would impose the national security laws. Dominic Raab, foreign secretary, made an “unprecedented” pledge to provide a pathway to UK citizenship for almost 3m Hong Kong residents.
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The offer applies to anyone who holds or is eligible to hold a British National (Overseas) passport, a document issued to Hong Kong residents born before the handover of the territory from UK to China in 1997.
Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s former chief executive and one of the territory’s highest profile pro-Beijing figures, warned that London-headquartered HSBC’s dominant and lucrative position in Hong Kong “should not be taken for granted”.
The bank makes as much as 90 per cent of its profits in Asia, with the bulk of that coming from Hong Kong and mainland China.
Additional reporting by Tom Mitchell in Singapore