A prominent U.S. senator warned China on Aug. 13 Hong Kong could lose its special U.S. trade status if Beijing intervenes directly to crack down on increasingly violent pro-democracy protests in the city.
A leading Republican also said the Trump administration must make clear to Beijing it would face “profound consequences,” including sanctions, if it intervened directly.
“I can assure you that if China comes down hard on the protesters that there will be action in Congress to enforce the autonomy agreements that were entered into that are part of the special recognition of Hong Kong,” Senator Ben Cardin told Reuters. He said such action had bipartisan support.
Cardin, a Democrat, has co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that would require the U.S. government to provide annual justification for the continuation of special treatment afforded to Hong Kong.
A 1992 U.S. law affords Hong Kong preferential treatment in matters of trade and economics compared with China. Areas of special treatment include visas, law enforcement and investment.
Cardin said Hong Kong enjoyed the special status in exchange for the “one country-two systems” arrangement guaranteeing it a high degree of autonomy and human rights after its handover to China from Britain in 1997.
“If China interferes with the autonomy of Hong Kong, then it does affect our agreements in regard to Hong Kong as far as the trade zone is concerned,” Cardin said.
Cory Gardner, another leading senator who is Republican chair of the Senate’s East Asia subcommittee, said on Twitter the Trump administration “must make clear to Beijing that any crackdown in Hong Kong will have profound consequences for China, including imposition of U.S. sanctions.”
“The voice of the people of Hong Kong must be heard without fear of repression and retaliation. The Hong Kong government must fully guarantee the democratic rights of Hong Kongers, while Beijing must fully respect Hong Kong’s autonomy. The world is watching,” Gardner said.