U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad expressed U.S. concerns about Beijing’s recent actions to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy while meeting with China’s vice foreign minister Zheng Zeguang.
The U.S. Embassy in China issued a brief statement on July 16 about the face-to-face talks between Branstad and Zheng a day earlier. According to Chinese state-run media, Zheng had summoned the U.S. Ambassador to lodge a protest against President Donald Trump’s recent actions on Hong Kong policy.
Trump on July 14 signed into law the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, paving the way for the U.S. government to slap sanctions on officials involved in eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy and the banks that do business with them. He also signed an executive order ending Hong Kong’s preferential trade treatment by the United States.
The executive order also suspends an extradition treaty signed with the Chinese-ruled city, and allows additional refugee admission for residents of Hong Kong on humanitarian concerns.
According to the embassy statement, Branstad explained to Zheng that Hong Kong “is no longer sufficiently autonomous to justify differential treatment under particular United States laws and provisions.”
Beijing has drawn international criticism over its decision to adopt a national security law for Hong Kong after ceremonial votes by China’s rubber-stamp legislature on June 30.
The security law criminalizes what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) deems as acts of subversion, secession, terrorism, and collusion with “a foreign country or with external elements” against the communist state, with maximum penalties of life imprisonment.
Branstad called on Beijing to “restore Hong Kong’s liberties and refrain from any further erosion of its high degree of autonomy as guaranteed under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”
Signed in 1984, the Sino-British Joint Declaration is a legally-binding international treaty, under which Hong Kong was handed back to China from British rule in 1997. Under the treaty, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution or Basic Law was drafted, which is meant to guarantee the city a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years after 1997 under the “one country, two systems” model.
At the meeting, Zheng accused the United States of “gross interference in China’s internal affairs,” and threatened “sanctions on relevant U.S. entities and individuals,” according to Chinese state-run media Xinhua.
Late on Wednesday evening, the Hong Kong government also issued a statement, accusing the United States of “abhorrent acts by the political slogan of supporting Hong Kong people.”
The city government said it “will fully support the Central Government to adopt countermeasures.”
In response to Trump’s decision to suspend the extradition treaty, Alan Leong, barrister and chairman of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Civic Party, took to his Twitter account on Thursday to explain Hong Kong’s current situation.
“#HK is no longer trusted as a jurisdiction that practises the rule of law that is capable of affording to fugitives extradited here with the basic protections of human rights and a fair judicial process!” Leong stated.