The islands of Hong Kong, part of the People’s Republic of China, have maintained self-rule since 1997. Once a British Colony, the city has now become a special administrative region allowed to uphold a thriving capitalistic economy and separate government from China. Hong Kong upholds its own borders and legal systems, ensuring rights such as the freedom of speech, assembly, and press. The United States provides Hong Kong with special trading privileges, inactive in China, that hinge on the city’s ability to remain independent. But in recent years, Hong Kong’s autonomy has been questioned due to the sanctioning of new laws in China. Despite concerns over Hong Kong’s autonomy, the US should not revoke the region’s special privileges as doing so would cause inevitable harm to bilateral trade and possibly the self-rule of Hong Kong.
Threats to Autonomy
In June 2019, protests first broke out in Hong Kong over Beijing’s bill proposal of allowing extradition to China. The law would take away Hong Kong’s jurisdiction over their criminals, which many protesters saw as a breach of the arrangement made in the Basic Law. The bill was abandoned in September, but pro-democracy protests continued long after. On July 1st, 2020, a new anti-protest law became finalized by Beijing, and arrests were made the same day in Hong Kong. Anyone found participating in terrorist, treasonous, or pro-independence activities are viable to face anything from short term detention to a life sentence in prison.
Beijing claims this law is essential to maintaining political and economic peace in Hong Kong and explains that while there are still separate government bodies, the country will be more united. But activists and many Hong Kong citizens feel outraged, seeing this as the final loss of their independence from China.
Special Status in the US
In the past, Hong Kong has received trading “privileges” in the US due to their autonomy. Hong Kong functions as a separate customs territory and sustains a lack of tariffs on trade with the US. On May 28th, 2020, the US secretary of state declared that “no reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China” and the city’s trading privileges should be revoked due to the anti-protest law. Soon after, Trump said he intended to remove Hong Kong’s custom status and impose sanctions on government officials. In early July, the sale of military equipment to Hong Kong ended and export license exceptions were suspended. These alterations coincided with the trade regulations currently present in China. In short, the US government is revoking Hong Kong’s trading policies because they fear that Hong Kong will soon become indistinguishable from China
Despite the United States’ assertion that this action was necessary, Hong Kong is currently only under the threat of losing total autonomy. However, it isn’t completely subjugated yet, and revoking these policies will only cause damage to businesses and further endanger Hong Kong’s self-rule. Therefore, the US should grant Hong Kong trading privileges over China because the threat to businesses and Hong Kong is far greater than any threat to the US.
A Liability for Business
Hong Kong is a metropolitan hub, with the presence of more than 1,300 US businesses. Bilateral trade between the US and Hong Kong was totaled at nearly $67 billion in 2018. If Hong Kong’s trade status were revoked, visa-free travel will resort to China’s processes, turning business-related travel into a hassle. Furthermore, the increase in tariffs will compromise trade. Businesses in both the US and Hong Kong would be at serious risk, especially so in the midst of COVID-19. More than ever, businesses need support from the government, and withholding trade privileges will only serve as a burden.
China and Hong Kong have often been referred to as “one country, two systems.” This is still true today, despite the increasing similarity between those two systems. If the US begins to treat these two systems as one, it will only encourage Beijing officials in removing self-rule in Hong Kong by implying that the fight is over and Hong Kong’s autonomy is already lost. Although the region’s self-rule has faced many interferences recently, there is still much hope for the future.
Ultimately, China broke the Basic Law by interfering in Hong Kong’s autonomy, but the US can do nothing to change their laws. What the US can do is fight to maintain Hong Kong’s autonomy by allowing trading privileges, which have benefited both countries. Failing to do so will hurt businesses and likely further China’s hold over Hong Kong.
The majority of Americans will not be personally affected by this issue, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help Hong Kongers in this battle for self-rule. The more Americans that educate themselves about Hong Kong’s struggles, the better. It’s essential to inform others as well, especially because the current threats to Hong Kong may seem very far off. While that is true, it is each and every person’s duty to speak up and while China may be a dictatorship, the US is not; Americans’ voices make an impact. It’s the job of State representatives to listen to these voices and if Americans began calling up their representatives, protesting these new regulations, improvements would undoubtedly follow. Hong Kong needs all the allies they can get, and even the seemingly insignificant actions that Americans take can make a difference.