On Monday, it was announced that the United States would halt exports of defense equipment to Hong Kong and place restrictions on dual-use technology exports as a “direct consequence” of Beijing’s proposed national security law. Several hours later, news broke that China had passed the bill, granting the mainland sweeping powers over the city.
According to local media, the bill received unanimous support and could be enacted as soon as Wednesday of this week.
Despite this, full details of the legislation remain elusive and have yet to be disclosed to officials on the island. However, it is broadly known to criminalize acts and activities related to secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security.
“As Beijing moves forward with passing the national security law, the United States will today end exports of US-origin defense equipment and will take steps toward imposing the same restrictions on US defense and dual-use technologies to Hong Kong as it does for China,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement on Monday.
“Our actions target the regime, not the Chinese people. But given Beijing now treats Hong Kong as ‘One Country, One System,’ so must we,” he continued, citing a need to protect US national security.
Hong Kong had previously enjoyed special privileges that allowed it to freely import American technologies and defense equipment that Beijing either did not have access to or required special licenses for. However, the Trump administration declared in May that Hong Kong was no longer considered to have a “high degree of autonomy” and was instead, becoming a “model for authoritarian China.”
“We cannot risk these items falling into the hands of the People’s Liberation Army, whose primary purpose is to uphold the dictatorship of the [Chinese Communist Party] by any means necessary,” said Pompeo.
This comes after the US Senate unanimously passed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act last week which would impose mandatory sanctions on individuals and companies believed to be involved in undermining the freedoms promised to Hong Kong under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
In direct retaliation, China announced on Monday that they would be imposing visa restrictions on US officials “with egregious conducts on Hong Kong-related issues.”
Speaking at his regular news conference on Monday, China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian condemned the US’ “vicious denigration” of the national security legislation and “grave interference” in China’s internal affairs.
“Their attempts are doomed to fail. This act will be nothing more than a piece of paper,” he said, directly referring to the Hong Kong Autonomy Act.
Zhao declined to elaborate when questioned about who would be targeted by the new visa restrictions, only stating that the individuals concerned are “well aware [of who they are].”
Republican diplomat Pat Toomey, who co-authored the Senate bill, said that Beijing’s move to retaliate against US individuals was “evidence that the Hong Kong Autonomy Act would have the intended effect of punishing abuses and they are afraid of the consequences.”
These tit-for-tat moves act to further strain the already difficult US-China relationship and also come amid the two nations’ efforts to execute their part of the phase one trade deal. While both countries reaffirmed their commitment to this deal during recent talks in Hawaii, recent sanctions are bound to complicate matters.
Yun Sun, the director of the China program at the Stimson Center in Washington said that the US administration’s ambiguity was “trying to signal room for leverage and flexibility.”
“If Beijing complies with US demands, the US list will be lenient,” she continued. Beijing’s reaction would in turn be “proportional in terms of the scope and intensity.”
Many also remain apprehensive over the effects of the worsening relationship between the two world powers.
Executive Director and Chief China Economist of DBS Bank Chris Leung stated his belief that the relationship between the two nations would continue to be rocky and likely worsen over the next six months.
“As long as the issue of the national security law is unsettled, there will be no Phase two in US-China trade talks,” he said.
Some also fear that the rising tensions will eventually also affect individuals rather than just diplomats and businesses.
Jia Qingguo, a professor of international studies at Peking University in Beijing said, “No matter whether you are an overseas student, or a tourist, or businessperson, if the atmosphere is not good, you will gradually be affected.”
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