A new policy for Hong Kong

A new policy for Hong Kong
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It was welcome news that Joe Biden has considered creation of an “Asia tsar” for the White House to coordinate policy in the face of challenges posed by China. However, to fully signal to Beijing that its authoritarian expansionist aims must be halted and reversed, the new administration should consider devising a new foreign policy for Hong Kong.

When President Trump suspended the special treatment of Hong Kong as a trading entity different from the rest of China, the United States harmed its relations with the former British colony. But there is no indication that a new policy distinct from an overall China strategy will be created for Hong Kong. As an exiled dissident from the city, I believe a new policy is critical since it continues to serve American interests to have Hong Kong remain different in both character and politics from the rest of China.

Hong Kong is more than a place where the United States has an extensive business presence. My home city is different from the mainland in that its people believe in the values of freedom, democracy, civil society, and the rule of law. The brave protesters are a testament for this. Given its history and location, Hong Kong was a mecca of freedom in the far east, and it is still one barometer for the influence of Chinese and American politics. At one end is the Communist Party that pushes its authoritarian agenda. At the other is the liberal world order that defends modern values.


Representatives of the American people understand the critical role that Hong Kong plays, which is why Congress passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and the Hong Kong Autonomy Act swiftly and without dissent over the last year. The issue now is whether and how the new administration will continue to actively support Hong Kong with its struggle against the oppression from the Communist Party.

It is an issue of urgency because China is watching. Without a solid and clear policy from the United States for the future of Hong Kong, then the leaders in Beijing may conclude that they have won this battle, that they can renege on international obligations, and that they can do the same with Taiwan to further advance their ambition in the region.

In my view, there are several avenues for the new administration to signal American intent. The United States can declare the continuous validity of the Sino British Joint Declaration of 1984 and the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, and a desire to have them faithfully restored. A Hong Kong portfolio can be created within the “Asia tsar” office to build policies in support of more autonomy, democracy, and human rights in the city.

Prominence can be lent to the China portfolio to work with members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and the Five Eyes alliance to counter the aggression from Xi Jinping. The United States can lead a coalition of countries to use immigration, such as higher allowances for Hong Kong political refugees and stricter limits for Communist Party members, and the enticement of trade, combined with threats of sanctions, to reverse the erosion of freedom and the rule of law in Hong Kong. Biden can also show the United States means business with an announcement of a new policy for Hong Kong with these measures in his first 100 days.

We owe the current administration credit for leading the world to realize the threat that is China and to redraw relations with it. The next president has to set the tone. Hong Kong is a litmus test for the American resolve to defend democracy and a check on how far China could reach to overturn the liberal world order. A new policy is needed for Hong Kong.

Sunny Cheung is a democracy activist from Hong Kong who has worked to raise international awareness of the growing control for China in the region since the Umbrella Movement. He has testified before Congress in support of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and now lives in exile.