City risks losing special status after Pompeo moves to drop autonomous designation.
HONG KONG/SHANGHAI — Lawmakers in China on Thursday passed legislation that will extend the country’s opaque national security law to Hong Kong, an expected move that has prompted large demonstrations in the city and a warning from Washington.
The bill, which was passed by a vote of 2,878 in favor to one objection, has put the Asian hub’s economic status at risk in Washington, where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that Hong Kong no longer deserves special treatment. “No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” he said.
The vote at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, could prompt more countries to follow the U.S. in re-evaluating trade arrangements with Hong Kong, which is home to many multinational companies’ Asian headquarters.
The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy under the framework of “one country, two systems,” which sets it apart from mainland financial and business centers such as Shanghai and Shenzhen. Hong Kong maintains an independent judiciary, a separate currency and financial system, and guarantees on freedom of speech.
Under the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, Washington treats Hong Kong as a separate jurisdiction from mainland China and gives the territory special treatment regarding matters of travel and trade.
At a news conference following the NPC, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang insisted the law does not change Hong Kong’s status.
“One country, two systems is China’s basic state policy,” Li said. “The decision adopted by the NPC is designed for steady implementation of ‘one country, two systems’ for Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability.”
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam welcomed the passage of the bill, and vowed to “fully cooperate with” the standing committee of NPC to complete the legislation process.
“We will proactively reflect on the detailed situation in Hong Kong during the process,” she said, adding that she will seek to reassure the public that the law will only affect a “extremely small minority of criminals.”
“It will not affect the legitimate rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents,” Lam said.