The Hong Kong government has condemned Donald Trump’s threat to revoke the territory’s special trade privileges after Beijing moved to impose anti-subversion laws on the Asian financial hub.
The US president unveiled a sweeping range of actions on Friday targeting Beijing and Hong Kong, which included plans to sanction government officials and to revoke the territory’s preferential trading status.
Teresa Cheng, Hong Kong’s justice minister, criticised Mr Trump on Saturday. She described the logic behind his threat as “completely false and wrong” and defended Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong as necessary and legal. The Global Times, China’s nationalist tabloid, denounced Mr Trump’s announcement as “a recklessly arbitrary move”.
John Lee, Hong Kong’s security minister, said: “I don’t think they [the US] will succeed in taking any measures that pressures or threatens [Hong Kong’s] government officials because we believe that what we are doing is correct.”
The Hong Kong government has fallen into line to support China’s rubber-stamp parliament, which moved to introduce security legislation on the territory this week.
But many of Hong Kong’s leading legal scholars as well as the Hong Kong Bar Association, which represents more than 1,500 barristers in the territory, said the proposed law violated Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
It is not clear how Mr Trump will go about revoking the former British colony’s special trade status, which is creating uncertainty for businesses in the territory. On Saturday, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong called on Washington to provide guidance for American companies.
“American business in Hong Kong is smack in the middle of the US-China friction and we can’t seem to catch a break these days,” Tara Joseph, president of AmCham, told the Financial Times.
“There won’t be a rush for the exits, but every company is likely to review their footprint here and decide how to move forward.”
Raymond Young, chief executive of the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong, downplayed the seriousness of the US threat.
“The impact on us manufacturers in Hong Kong is not as great as touted by the Americans,” Mr Young said, adding that US exports made up only a small portion of Hong Kong total exports.
Joshua Wong, the pro-democracy activist, called for an “international alliance to stand with Hong Kong”. He said actions “speak louder than words” and that it was important to find “different kinds of tools to put pressure on Beijing”.
Hong Kong has become the focus of US-China tensions after the relationship between the world’s biggest economies deteriorated markedly when Mr Trump blamed China for the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The disease has killed more than 365,000 people around the world, with more than 100,000 fatalities in the US.
The UK also retaliated after Beijing said it would impose the national security laws on Hong Kong. Dominic Raab, UK foreign secretary, made an “unprecedented” pledge to provide a pathway to UK citizenship for almost 3m Hong Kong residents.
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The offer applies to anyone who holds or is eligible to hold a British National (Overseas) passport, a document issued to Hong Kong residents born before the handover of the territory from UK to China in 1997.
Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s former chief executive and one of the territory’s highest profile pro-Beijing figures, warned that London-headquartered HSBC’s dominant and lucrative position in Hong Kong “should not be taken for granted”.
The bank makes as much as 90 per cent of its profits in Asia, with the bulk of that coming from Hong Kong and mainland China.