June 3, 2020
In another blow to U.S.-Chinese relations, Trump has recently announced he will begin the process of ending Hong Kong’s privileged economic treatment due to a newly introduced security law pressured by mainland China.
In another blow to U.S.-Chinese relations, President Trump has announced he will begin the process of ending Hong Kong’s privileged economic treatment due to a newly introduced security law pressured by mainland China. The move has drawn significant Chinese ire and hints at a worrying (but possibly not unwarranted) escalation in the simmering tensions between the Trump administration and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have declared that the reasoning for said shift is due to the loss of Hong Kong’s status as a separate and distinct territory from China. In conjunction with the ending of said treatment, there are supposed, but vague, threats of imposing sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials that have been designated as having played a role in the gradual loss of the territory’s autonomy by the Trump administration. Chinese foreign nationals that are deemed to be potential security threats will be denied entry into the U.S. And to top it all off, in a related stroke of foreign policy, Trump has stated that he will cease U.S. invovlement in the World Health Organization (WHO), which he has accused of handling China with kid gloves over the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic.
First, what is the history of this so-called “privileged treatment” and what is Trump threatening? Hong Kong’s special status was created in 1984 through the Sino-British Joint Declaration, in which the U.K. agreed to hand over control of its former colony of Hong Kong to China with the promise that the newly-created territory would not be subject to the CCP’s political or economic systems for 50 years. Ever since, Hong Kong has enjoyed a privileged extradition treaty, favorable trade agreements, a lack of tariffs and controls imposed upon the mainland, and many other favorable conditions with the international community. However, the CCP has historically, and especially of late, been accused of attempting to erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and bring it more securely into the fold. It was under such accusations that the people of Hong Kong rose up in mass protests beginning in June 2019 with demands for civil liberties and further independence from Beijing’s control.
Second, what is this new security law that has drawn so much fuss? The law would allow CCP organs to crack down on anything perceived as anti-Beijing dissidence, and possibly permit mainland security agencies to be extended into Hong Kong. Due to be enacted in September, it is still unclear as to what exactly will be made illegal, but many theorize that it will outlaw any discussion of secession, any subversion of CCP authority, the prosecution of all activities designated as terrorism directed against China or Chinese interests, and the blocking of foreign interference in Hong Kong. It is most certainly a blow to democratic freedoms and signals a less force-based approach by the CCP to reign in what has become a PR nightmare for the regime.
Third, what is Trump’s issue with the relationship between the WHO and China? The WHO has repeatedly commended China on its response to Covid-19 despite the regime’s tight-lipped refusal to share information regarding its domestic response and heavy-handed control measures of the virus. This has drawn Trump and others to declare that the WHO is too dependent upon the financing and collaboration of affluent UN member states, such as China, to properly carry out its mission. The crux of his argument is that the WHO is too scared to publicly unmask the CCP’s guilty part in the spread of Covid-19, and that due to this unwillingness, the WHO no longer serves the interests of the U.S.
Let us begin with the situation in Hong Kong. I can understand the Trump administration’s decision to revoke the territory’s privileged status as a way of striking back at the CCP. Although I believe that we as Americans should step down off our self-styled high horse as leaders of the free world and embrace a humbler desire to pursue the extension of liberties for liberties sake, the new security bill is in no doubt a stain upon democratic freedoms. From a strictly contractual standpoint, China may not have wholly replaced the economic and political systems of Hong Kong, but they have certainly begun the process well before the 50-year landmark. And from the standpoint of striking a blow to China, Hong Kong is a notable crown jewel to shatter. With expensive properties, a thriving commercial and financial sector, and notable stock exchange, it is a ripe target for retribution.
However, I caution against what I would deem to be a far too expansive blow. What is needed is a scalpel, not a sledgehammer. The CCP are naturally going to attempt to finish off the protests that have been carrying on for over a year. Their use of military and police tactics drew international condemnation and has had little effect on quelling the unrest. They are now attempting to move more subtly through legislation. If we withdraw the entirety of Hong Kong’s status it will decimate the very people we are attempting to help. The territory’s usefulness to the regime is dictated by the favorable treatment. Yes, it will hurt the CCP, but only for a short time. Once Hong Kong is deprived of its status, the people have no bargaining chip to utilize.
Turning now to the issue of Trump’s grievances with the WHO. He is not the first to raise such complaints. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is just one example of the WHO being accused of gross inefficiency and an inability to deliver results. However, should the U.S. really be drawing out of the largest international health organization during a pandemic? I would say no. Although there is certainly cause for investigating the WHO’s handling of Covid-19 and the repeated praise heaped upon China despite evidence to the contrary, our reckoning with the WHO can wait until the pandemic is over. Otherwise we would be shooting ourselves and the rest of the world in the foot. Premature reprisal, however well-intentioned and possibly well-founded, requires far more evidence and forethought than what Trump is putting in. Let the world heal, do not deprive it of needed funding and research before we have left the woods behind.
- Hong Kong Free Press – pro-democracy news organization within Hong Kong
- 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund – organization working to provide for protester needs on the ground
- Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute – working to generate reports about the needs of civil society in Hong Kong