Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam tried to rally people behind China’s new national security on Friday, as the government warned the United States to stop interfering in its internal affairs, saying the withdrawal of the territory’s special status could be a “double-edged sword”.
The statement came as US President Donald Trump prepared to announce later on Friday his response to the Chinese parliament’s approval of national security legislation for Hong Kong, which critics say will erode the freedoms agreed on its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
The former British colony enjoys a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework that ended more than a century of colonial rule.
“Any sanctions are a double-edged sword that will not only harm the interests of Hong Kong but also significantly those of the US,” the city’s government said late on Thursday.
It added that from 2009 to 2018, the US trade surplus with Hong Kong was the biggest among all its trading partners, totalling $297bn of merchandise with 1,300 American firms are based in the city.
The legislation will allow Chinese intelligence agencies to set up bases in the territory. Beijing argues the new legislation is necessary to tackle secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.
Hong Kong has been convulsed by sometimes violent protests since the local government attempted to introduce an extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial. While the scale of the opposition forced the government to abandon the plan, the protests have evolved into broader calls for democracy amid concerns about China’s encroachment into Hong Kong’s affairs.
After a coronavirus lull, the national security bill has ignited the first big protests in Hong Kong for months. Police moved to disperse crowds in the heart of the city’s business district with pepper pellets and hundreds were arrested. Social media showed mainly young people, including schoolchildren, being escorted onto police buses.
The US Department of State said in a report on Thursday it could “no longer certify that Hong Kong continues to warrant (differential) treatment” from Beijing.
Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow warned that Hong Kong, which has enjoyed special privileges under US law based on its high degree of autonomy from Beijing, may now need to be treated like China on trade and other financial matters.