The Trump administration on Wednesday officially designated Hong Kong as no longer autonomous from China, escalating tensions between the United States and Beijing as it violently cracks down on protesters in the city.
"No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an announcement on the official designation, which was formally transmitted to Congress earlier on Wednesday.
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The new designation jeopardizes Hong Kong's special administrative status as the communist regime engages in the violent suppression of protesters. The Trump administration pointed to China's efforts to implement a stringent new national security law on the city as proof that it is no longer autonomous.
Hong Kong citizens have taken to the streets to protest that law, which they say limits their freedom. The law would ban secession from and subversion of China as well as foreign acts of interference in Hong Kong.
The decision throws into question the United States' longstanding trade deals with Hong Kong and could pave the way for the administration to slap sanctions on Chinese officials it views as meddling in the territory.
"I can no longer certify that Hong Kong continues to warrant such [special] treatment," Pompeo wrote in a communication to Congress and quoted to the Free Beacon. "Authoritarian China has now changed Hong Kong."
"China has shed any pretense that the people of Hong Kong enjoy the high degree of autonomy, democratic institutions, and civil liberties guaranteed to them by the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law," the communication states. "I hope that someday in the future, I will be able to recertify that the territory once again warrants differential treatment under U.S. law. Given present circumstances, the chance of that happening is remote. In the meantime, the United States stands with the people of Hong Kong as they struggle against the CCP’s increasing denial of the autonomy they were promised."
The United States' official designation was forced by legislation mandating an assessment of Hong Kong's status. The White House had objected to the 2019 law, which was spearheaded by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas). The measure included language mandating the president issue sanctions on those it identifies as meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs.
Cruz said China's curtailing of Hong Kong's autonomy marks "a sad day for liberty."
"The Chinese Communist Party and the People's Republic of China have now undeniably violated Hong Kong's autonomy at the expense of the precious freedoms the people of Hong Kong fought tirelessly and bravely to preserve," Cruz said in a statement. "This unacceptable aggression is exactly why I introduced the Hong Kong Policy Reevaluation Act, a version of which was signed into law last year. As the Trump administration's actions make clear, America will not stand by and allow tyrants in China to exploit the special treatment Hong Kong received under U.S. law."
Update 4:21 p.m.: This post has been updated with further information.