The utter importance of the US-Hong Kong Policy Act

February 01, 2019 18:44
Maintaining the United States–Hong Kong Policy Act will not only prevent Hong Kong from getting dragged into the US-China trade war but also foster stability in the various exchanges between the US and our city. Photo: HKEJ/AFP

On Dec. 1, Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., was arrested by Canadian authorities at the request of the United States.

Almost immediately afterwards, countries such as the US, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Germany have all announced one after another that they would either take Huawei products and technologies off their government procurement lists or ban the company from participating in building their infrastructure of 5G services.

In retaliation, China has apprehended several Canadian and Australian nationals on its soil on various charges.

As we can see, the Sino-US trade war is no longer just an economic dispute between Washington and Beijing but a political rivalry between the two great powers.

In November, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), which was created by the US Congress, published a report alleging that China has been reneging on its promise of implementing “one country, two systems” and “a high degree of autonomy” for Hong Kong. 

The commission recommended that Congress direct the Department of Commerce and other relevant government agencies to examine and assess the adequacy of US export control policy as it relates to the treatment of Hong Kong and China as separate customs areas.

While the USCC report has drawn fire from various quarters, especially from the pro-establishment camp, for being allegedly biased against Hong Kong and politicizing economic issues, it is without doubt that the US-China trade war has already spilled over into our city.

Under the US–Hong Kong Policy Act passed in 1992, the US government acknowledges the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and regards Hong Kong as a completely different region from the rest of China in various aspects including political, judicial and trading.

Under that law, Washington’s diplomatic approach also differentiates between the HKSAR government and the mainland government, thereby treating our city as a separate customs area and recognizing the HKSAR passport as a legitimate travel document.

The act also, among other things, allows Hong Kong citizens to apply for US visas independently, permits free exchange between the US and Hong Kong currencies, and grants our city the right to purchase sensitive technologies from the US under the US export controls, as long as Hong Kong needs to ensure they aren’t put to improper use.

In other words, the US-Hong Kong Policy Act, while a political product by nature, is also a piece of legislation with a very broad scope. It regulates not only US-Hong Kong economic activities but also covers such aspects as policies affecting Hong Kong citizens who are doing business, working, studying or traveling in the US.

As such, the importance of the US-Hong Kong Policy Act to our city cannot be ignored.

Maintaining the act will not only prevent Hong Kong from getting dragged into the ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing but can also foster stability in the various exchanges between the US and our city.

In fact, the main reason for my visit to the US last year was to lobby for the preservation of the act. 

But in order to sustain the US-Hong Kong Policy Act, Beijing must acknowledge the fact that the Sino-British Joint Declaration remains valid.

Over the past few years, some of Beijing’s moves, such as its assertion that the Sino-British Joint Declaration no longer has any real meaning and binding power and that the Chinese constitution is applicable to Hong Kong, as well as the disqualification of election candidates in our city, among other incidents, have already seriously undermined international confidence in the “one country, two systems” principle.

The only way to sustain the US-Hong Kong Policy Act as well as our city’s status as a separate customs area is for both Beijing and the SAR government to strictly abide by the Basic Law, to guarantee that “one country, two systems” is being implemented according to its original intent, to uphold the existing rights and freedom of our citizens, and to defend our city’s judicial independence.

At the same time, SAR government officials must have a full grasp of the big picture and avoid treating the ongoing saga between the US and China as just a tariff issue.

In fact, during her recent duty visit to Beijing, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was reminded by Premier Li Keqiang of the importance of Hong Kong’s status as a separate customs area.

Furthermore, the SAR government must also strictly observe international treaties and agreements, as well as enforce United Nations sanctions and embargoes, so as to prevent our city from becoming a safe haven for illegal activities.

Only through playing by international rules, upholding the rule of law, and fulfilling Hong Kong’s obligation as a responsible member of the international community can we guarantee that our city would continue to enjoy special treatment from the rest of the world.

This year, I am going to visit the US again and continue to exchange my views on these issues with members of the American political and business sectors.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 25

Translation by Alan Lee

[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