Trump to end special treatment for Hong Kong

President Trump on Friday announced his administration is preparing a slew of changes to the full range of U.S. agreements between the U.S. and Hong Kong, saying the territory no longer appeared autonomous from Beijing.

“China has replaced its promised formula for ‘one country two systems’ with ‘one country, one system,’” the president said during a press conference at the White House where he did not take any questions.

“Therefore I am directing my administration to begin the process of eliminating policy exemptions that give Hong Kong different and special treatment.”

The president’s announcement follows recent steps taken by Beijing to exert more control over the semi-autonomous territory.

The U.S. and allied governments say those steps are in “direct conflict” with the negotiated treaty that transferred power of the city-territory from British to Chinese control in 1997.

That agreement, called the Sino-British Joint Declaration, allowed Hong Kong to maintain an independent legislature and judicial system as well as its freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

Chinese officials have pushed back on international criticism that they have violated the declaration, accusing foreign governments of interfering in internal affairs and threatening counter-measures.

And Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government warned late Thursday night that any sanctions imposed by the U.S. would be a “double-edged sword” on bilateral relations.

But Trump on Friday appeared to throw those relations into question nonetheless.

“We will take action to revoke Hong Kong’s preferential treatment as a separate customs and travel territory from the rest of China,” the president said.

The U.S. has political, trade and economic agreements with Hong Kong separate from Beijing. An estimated 1,300 U.S. companies operate in Hong Kong, and approximately 85,000 U.S. citizens are residents in the territory, according to a 2018 State Department fact sheet.

U.S. citizens are currently free to travel to Hong Kong without a visa for a period of up to 90 days, whereas travel to mainland China requires applying and paying for a visa.

The president also said the U.S. will sanction Chinese officials and Hong Kong officials “directly or indirectly involved in eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy,” a move consistent with bipartisan legislation

Trump added that he is directing the State Department to issue a travel advisory “to reflect the increased danger of surveillance and punishment by the Chinese state security apparatus.”

Beijing is moving forward with imposing a National Security Law over Hong Kong, which would criminalize acts of “sedition, secession and terrorism” viewed as undermining the central government in Beijing.

China’s legislature approved a draft measure of the legislation on Thursday. The final text is expected to be written in the coming weeks with implementation in September.

Pro-democracy protests have exploded in opposition to the proposed legislation.

“China claims it is protecting national security,” Trump said. “But the truth is that Hong Kong was secure and prosperous as a free society Beijing’s decision reverses all of that.”

The president also announced new visa restrictions on Chinese students or researchers with ties to the Chinese military who are pursuing post-graduate strides in the U.S., saying they pose “potential security risks.”

The announcement of the new actions on Hong Kong, was received positively by U.S. markets, which were concerned that Trump might hit China on trade.

Niv Elis contributed to this report.

— Updated at 4:33 p.m.

Tags China Donald Trump Great Britain Hong Kong Hong Kong sanctions
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