How Hong Kong has become a pawn in US-imposed trade war

  • Washington is demanding that the Carrie Lam administration do its bidding, with local dissenters cheering in the background
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2018, 9:51pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2018, 10:25pm

Hong Kong officials have long warned that the city could be caught in the middle of a trade war between the United States and China. It now looks like things could be much worse: we might become the epicentre of the geopolitical rivalry between the two superpowers.

After 20 years, Beijing and Washington are taking their gloves off in dealing with the city.

Having been warned by a US congressional commission that Hong Kong’s separate customs status from the rest of China may be reversed, Washington now complains the city is not doing enough to enforce US sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

The message from the Americans is especially reinforced by the arrest of Huawei’s No 2 Sabrina Meng Wanzhou in Canada, for possible extradition to the US, despite claims by American officials that the two issues are not related.

A high-powered delegation from the US departments of State and Commerce was in town last week to review our performance in enforcing sanctions and strategic trade controls.

While a statement put out by the US consulate general in Hong Kong did not directly criticise the city, it was clear enough that Washington wanted the government of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to devote extra local resources to checking the re-exports of strategic commodities.

The long – and political – arm of US law

But why should we do America’s bidding at our own expense? Well, that’s the American privilege of being the hegemon, or global policeman, when you can outsource enforcement of your laws and policies to others because you have leverage over them and can punish those who don’t comply.

As our second largest trading partner, the US only needs to suspend our separate customs status to expose Hong Kong to all the tariffs and restrictions on technology transfers the mainland now faces.

With incredible naivety, localists such as Andy Chan Ho-tin of the outlawed Hong Kong National Party and Dennis Kwok Wing-hang of the Civic Party are telling Americans to use the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act – which gives the city its separate customs status – as leverage. In reality, they and other long-time opposition figures are being exploited as leverage. This is the standard American playbook used over decades against enemies. With the help of a compliant “independent” news media, you demonise and delegitimise a rival government with a global pushback and idealise any two-bit disgruntled dissenters as the “true” voices of the locals.

It works almost every time.