Hong Kong now has the worst of both worlds. There will be plenty of blame to go around – mutual recriminations between the blue and yellow camps, and on the much larger world stage, those between Beijing and Washington. But any way you slice it, the city and its people have come out the biggest losers. Politically, what has been arguably one of the freest cities in the world will be much less free after Beijing imposes a national security law. Economically, what has often been described as the world’s freest economy may soon lose its special customs status with the United States and be considered by Washington as no more than “just another mainland city”. Things certainly took a rapid turn for the worse. Even last week, it wasn’t supposed to be this dire. At first sight, Beijing’s version of the national security law looked less draconian than the one stated in Article 23, which has yet to be legislated under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. It does not, for example, include treason and theft of state secrets. It does cover terrorism, though, while Article 23 doesn’t. However, Beijing has since disclosed a plan to expand the scope of the proposed law to prohibit “activities” that would “seriously endanger national security” as well as forming special units, possibly involving mainland agents, under the law to carry out investigations. While Washington had threatened to punish Beijing over the planned law, most Sino-American affairs specialists thought that would likely be sanctions against individual mainland officials. But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has now considerably raised the ante by declaring that “no reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China”. Washington has taken the first crucial step to ending the city’s special customs status, along with its privileges of free trade, investment and technology transfer with the US independently of the rest of mainland China. Effectively, Hong Kong has become the new “war front” over which Beijing and Washington clash in a test of wills and stake their claims as sovereign versus imperium. Forget about Hong Kong being “the goose that lays golden eggs” for China, or the conduit and window for the Western world to enter and invest in China. Such considerations are out the window in this rising titanic struggle between the two superpowers. It’s hard to see a good outcome for Hong Kong now. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.