What I will tell about Hong Kong during my US trip

December 05, 2018 11:46
A file picture shows US, China flags in a venue for talks between officials from the two sides. Amid the row between the big powers, Hong Kong needs to re-emphasize that it should be treated as a separate customs area, a lawmaker argues. Photo: Reuters

Amid the Sino-US trade war, the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) recently published an annual report in which it recommended that "the Congress direct the U.S. Department of Commerce and other relevant government agencies to prepare an unclassified public report, with a classified annex, examining and assessing the adequacy of U.S. export control policy for dual-use technology as it relates to U.S. treatment of Hong Kong and China as separate customs areas."

Given such complicated political and economic environment, Hong Kong definitely needs to lay out its position again at the international level and protect its special status, especially as the prevailing view is that the trade war truce that the US and China called last weekend is likely to be short-lived.

After I announced the purpose and itinerary details of my planned Dec 7-17 US trip, some people took issue with my view that the US government must stick to the United States–Hong Kong Policy Act and continue to treat our city as a separate customs area.

Such critics argued that since the "one country, two systems" principle now exists in name only, what I should do instead is to call upon Washington to immediately abolish its current policies towards Hong Kong in order to punish both Beijing and the Hong Kong government.

Well, I can fully relate to their feelings and understand their concerns about Hong Kong. The emotions are not surprising, given what has happened in the territory in recent years.

However, I also feel compelled to point out that it is definitely not the right time to urge Washington to cast aside the US-Hong Kong Policy Act and terminate our city’s status as a separate customs area.

It is because the US-Hong Kong Policy Act is actually the most powerful leverage that Washington has over Beijing when it comes to the latter’s policies towards our city. And it is also the last resort.

Therefore, it would definitely backfire on us if the US did repeal the act and nullify Hong Kong's status as a separate customs area at this critical point, since all it would do is cost us our competitiveness in the global market and precipitate Hong Kong’s integration into the mainland.

Coming to my trip, there is a strong reason why I have chosen to visit the US at this sensitive moment.

As the Hong Kong government and its leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, have completely dismissed the observations and criticisms stated in the USCC report, and, worse still, put the blame on the pro-democracy camp, I feel obliged to let the rest of the world know exactly what has been going on in Hong Kong, and express views as a concerned citizen.

As I have already told the media, It will use the US trip to explain the factors mentioned above to members of the political, business and professional sectors in the US, and convey the following messages and demands to them:

Firstly, the “one country, two systems” principle has, in recent years, continued to deviate rapidly from the original intents laid down in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.

Given the fact that Hong Kong is defined as an international city that is fundamentally different from the rest of China under “one country, two systems”, it is necessary for the international community to pay close attention to the state of implementation of the two systems policy.

Moreover, there are substantial grounds for governments around the world to review their policies towards Hong Kong based on the latest social, judicial and political developments in the city, so as to press both the central and the Hong Kong governments to honor the original aims of the 1984 joint declaration and the Basic Law.

In particular, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China should enhance its oversight of Hong Kong, and carry out more frequent and in-depth evaluations on the state of affairs in our city.

Second, despite the fact that the “one country, two systems” has taken a lot of blows over the years, the vast majority of Hong Kong people still very much want to preserve and defend the principle.

Rule of law is definitely the most important core and defining element that differentiates Hong Kong from the rest of China.

Even though the rule of law in Hong Kong has faced a lot of challenges since the 1997 handover, luckily, today we still have professional and internationally acclaimed legal and judicial sectors.

The US government, through the USCC report, has now sent a crystal clear warning to Beijing and the Hong Kong administration that it is keeping a close watch on the situation.

If rule of law and basic human rights see serious encroachment, for instance, by means of enactment of oppressive national security law, Washington can deploy its strongest and last-resort weapons to protest such developments: repealing the United States–Hong Kong Policy Act or revoking Hong Kong’s status as a separate customs area.

In my opinion, dangling of that sword would constitute the biggest and final protection that Hong Kong can rely on.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 4

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legco member representing the Legal functional constituency (2016-2020) and a founding member of Civic Party