WASHINGTON - The US State Department said on Wednesday (March 31) that Hong Kong should not be treated differently from mainland China under American law because of how much the city’s autonomy has been eroded, the second year in a row that Washington has made such an assessment.
In a mandatory annual report to Congress, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Chinese government “has continued to dismantle Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy” over the past year, in violation of its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and Hong Kong’s Basic Law.
The assessment was a further signal to Beijing that the Biden administration will continue the hard line against China that the previous Trump administration had adopted.
On Tuesday, the State Department in another report labelled China’s policies towards Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang as “genocide”, a determination that had also been made first under the Trump administration.
Mr Blinken’s comments came in a statement accompanying the Hong Kong Policy Act Report, in which the Secretary of State has to assess every year whether Hong Kong remains sufficiently autonomous from mainland China to warrant its special status in matters of trade and commerce.
Mr Blinken said that Hong Kong’s national security law “severely undermined the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong”, and also cited a list of actions by China and Hong Kong’s government that eroded the territory’s autonomy.
These included arbitrary arrests and politically-motivated prosecutions of opposition politicians, activists, and peaceful protesters, as well as a de facto ban on public demonstrations.
Beijing implemented the national security law last year in the wake of widespread pro-democracy protests that often turned violent, and on Monday also passed a sweeping overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system. It has consistently warned the US not to interfere with its internal affairs.
Mr Blinken vowed to work with Congress and American allies and partners around the world “to stand with people in Hong Kong against the PRC’s egregious policies and actions”.
He said that the US would impose consequences for China’s actions, including sanctions on officials deemed responsible for dismantling Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Washington most recently sanctioned an additional 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials two weeks ago, bringing the total number of people sanctioned for reducing Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy to 34.