For the US, Hong Kong is already ‘just another mainland city’

  • While it is still beneficial for all sides for Hong Kong to conduct normal trade with the United States separately from mainland China, the city is no longer ‘special’ for Americans
PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 6:07pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 10:40pm

Hong Kong had always been extraordinarily compliant with American demands, even long after the 1997 handover. From clearing customs cargos to overhauling banking practices under tough American standards against money-laundering and terrorist financing, the city had bent over backwards.

That may no longer be the case. Witness two recent responses by the government of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on the most sensitive issues of US sanctions enforcement and trade policy. According to the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, Hong Kong is not obliged to enforce sanctions imposed by the United States alone.

That policy covers the case of mainland telecom Huawei ’s chief financial officer Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, who is fighting extradition to the US in Canada for alleged dealings with Iran through a Hong Kong company. It’s surely significant that Washington asked Canada rather than Hong Kong, with which it also has an extradition treaty, to arrest Meng.

Meanwhile, Lam said last month that any change of customs status for Hong Kong would hurt American business interests as much as the city’s. “Whether to have such an act hurt others and oneself, I would urge the US and its Congress to think twice,” she said.

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She was referring to the Congress-appointed US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which claimed that mainland encroachment on the city could undermine its separate customs status under the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act.

Hong Kong’s responses are not merely attempts by officials to talk tough to Americans and please Beijing. The absence of diplomatic niceties indicates a fundamental change of tone and posture towards Washington. Despite the facade provided by the Hong Kong Policy Act, Americans already treat Hong Kong as “just another mainland city” when it comes to the trading of strategic commodities, sharing of sensitive information between intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and extradition.

Hong Kong refused to hand over a fugitive hacker last year, the first time it had rejected an American extradition request since 1997. But even without that precedent, it’s almost certain that the city would not hand Meng over to the Americans. Instead, such a request would only alert the Chinese that she was wanted in the US.

So while it’s still beneficial for all sides for Hong Kong to conduct normal trade with the US separately from mainland China, the city is no longer “special” for Americans, nor do we need to pretend that we are.