The US-HK Policy Act: Hong Kong’s special status under threat?

Following his high-profile speech on the city’s independence at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) last week, Hong Kong National Party’s convenor Mr Andy Chan called on the U.S. government to review the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 over the weekend.


What it is

The Policy Act is the basis for the U.S. government to treat Hong Kong as a non- sovereign entity distinct from China for the purposes of U.S. domestic law, based on the principles of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. In this case, Hong Kong is considered an independent economic entity.

In his open letter to U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday, Mr Chan urges Mr Trump to “suspend the differential treatments between Hong Kong and China in terms of application of the laws of the United States”, and “push forward revocation of Hong Kong and China’s respective World Trade Organization (WTO) memberships.”

“With the loss of autonomy and protection to fundamental rights, there is no longer any basis for the United States to give Hong Kong those treatments under the Policy Act,” Mr Chan writes in the letter.

He cites the authorities’ attempt to pressurize the FCC against his speaking, and Hong Kong’s independent membership being abused by China to gain unfair and unjustifiable advantages in WTO.

Mr Chan also notes that all the tariff and trade policies against China could equally apply to Hong Kong, if the city is no longer treated separately from China for matters concerning trade export and economics control.

Not popular

His remark on kicking Hong Kong out of the WTO has been met with fierce criticism from the Hong Kong government and pro-Beijing politicians.

Chief Executive Ms Carrie Lam called his action “inappropriate”, and convenor of Hong Kong’s Executive Council Mr Bernard Chan said it was “very foolish”. Ms Ann Chiang Lai-wan from the DAB also criticised him of “having no decency”.

The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said (CEDB) also made a statement, saying “thanks to the special status granted by the Basic Law, Hong Kong has become an international economic, trade and financial hub. The achievement is evident and hard-earned.”

“Any suggestion proposed by anyone or [any] group aiming at damaging the economic and trade, finance or even the overall interests of Hong Kong should be condemned,” the bureau said.

According to articles 116 and 151 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong is considered a separate customs territory and can join the WTO under the name “Hong Kong, China.”

Playing politics

“It is a political stunt – a rather smart move to force the Chief Executive, CEDB and the pro-China camp to say that Hong Kong is independent from China when it comes to trade,” says Mr Jack Fung, a researcher at Hong Kong Policy Research Institute.

“He raised the point that Hong Kong’s trade relations are closely tied to foreign countries,” Mr Fung says. “It does not aim to argue whether Hong Kong should be independent or not. Instead, his action is to test how the Hong Kong government will come up with a stance internally.”

“He is not appealing to the U.S. to interfere with Hong Kong’s affairs. He is addressing Beijing,” he adds.

View from America

Mr Fung also points out that the U.S. seems to have no intention to review the Policy Act at the moment.

“Whether they will review the Policy Act largely depends on if Hong Kong is still highly autonomous under the “one country, two systems” principle, and how the U.K. views Hong Kong,” he says.

In the Hong Kong Policy Act Report published by U.S. Department of State in May this year, the U.S. says Hong Kong still generally maintains a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework in most areas.

“U.S. congressmen have been arguing if the “Hong Kong model” is successful, and so far they have no intention to revoke the Policy Act,” Mr Fung says.

But…

“Every half a year, the U.K. publishes a report on Hong Kong’s situation in accordance with the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The U.S. will have to see what the U.K. writes in the report regarding Hong Kong’s autonomous status, if it ever considers revoking the Policy Act,” he adds.

Though Mr Andy Chan’s appeal is not affecting the U.S.-Hong Kong relationship at the moment, Mr Fung believes it will play a role as a reference.

“This letter to Trump will be filed for record and could become an appendix in future reports,” he says.

 

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