For decades, Americans rightly viewed Hong Kong as an outpost of freedom in China’s backyard, developing deep economic and cultural ties with the former British territory and its people. But the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) just wiped away that special status by passing an authoritarian national security law that will render Hong Kong almost indistinguishable from Beijing, Shanghai, or other cities in China.
America must now move quickly to protect its economic and national security interests and the people of Hong Kong as the CCP solidifies control over the formerly autonomous city.
As Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross warned about the CCP’s tightening grip, “The risk that sensitive U.S. technology will be diverted to the People’s Liberation Army or Ministry of State Security has increased.”
The Trump administration is already adjusting to this dangerous new reality. At the end of June, it suspended export license exceptions for sensitive U.S. technology and prohibited the export of defense equipment to Hong Kong. More changes, it signaled, are forthcoming.
Those changes should target the CCP’s interests and those complicit in Hong Kong.
Recently, the administration announced visa bans for CCP officials who had undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy but left untouched the Hong Kong elite who traded away their city’s freedom. Such sanctions should include at least the Hong Kong government’s politically appointed officials and Hong Kong’s delegates to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the National People’s Congress, which passed the national security law. The administration should also use its authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to place secondary sanctions on key figures who fall in this category, as well as any business institutions that have acted as Beijing’s executors.
Because the new national security law fundamentally changes the business environment in Hong Kong, the State Department should also update its travel advisory to the city. In 2017, Beijing defined national security as resting on a foundation of economic security. That law codified what we already knew from the 2008 raid on Rio Tinto’s offices in Shanghai: when your business costs the CCP, your people will pay. That politically motivated and unchecked policing power now extends into Hong Kong. Travelers should beware.
The most challenging question is how hard to squeeze Hong Kong’s financial system, which until now served as an airlock between China and the world. For their part, businesses can no longer assume their finances are safe in Hong Kong, as the new law explicitly states those funds can be frozen by Beijing. At a minimum, the administration should investigate fraud, especially by Chinese companies also listed in the United States, in Hong Kong to test how far Beijing is reaching into the city’s economy.
Dismantling the U.S. laws, treaties, and regulations that treat Hong Kong distinct from China will hurt Hong Kong economically, but the city’s special treatment was always premised on Beijing’s respect for its autonomy under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Xi Jinping demolished that agreement, signaling the end of Hong Kong as a global center for finance and commerce.
Of course, there is a human cost to Xi’s hostile takeover. The national security law’s draconian provisions endanger the millions of Hong Kong people who participated in the demonstrations throughout the last year. They have inspiringly continued to press for political, economic, and cultural freedom. We should join with the UK — and encourage others to offer a safe haven for those whom Beijing will persecute. My bipartisan Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act provides a blueprint for how to welcome Hong Kongers to the U.S. The looming crackdown, however, could outpace the legislative process. The administration should prepare a profile of Hong Kong activists vulnerable to persecution to help the U.S. consulate identify those who should be eligible to come to the United States under existing programs.
Throughout history, authoritarian regimes have ruled by forcing people to accept fear and violence in their everyday lives. We see this in western China, where the Communist Party is overseeing a slow-motion genocide of Uyghurs and other Muslims. International companies regularly turn a blind eye to the atrocities because business is good in China. Beijing is counting on the same complacency as it ravages the rights of Hong Kong’s people, but America cannot allow it to be so. We cannot allow the world — other nations, international companies, and other observers alike — to stand passively as Beijing suppresses yet another free people.