The United States makes a threat qualifying as “a nuclear option” to Beijing over Hong Kong. Beijing calls Washington’s bluff by announcing the impending national security law. In response, late last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified to Congress that Hong Kong no longer qualified for differential treatment as a separate customs entity from the rest of China. Two days later, his boss, President Donald Trump, announced that he would revoke the city’s special status. Then, what happened? Well, nothing. Americans now realise they have overplayed their hand and are backtracking. Pompeo has just said they might have to wait until September to see what happens with the Legislative Council elections. “That’s not that far off,” he said. “I think that will tell us everything we need to know about the Chinese Communist Party’s intentions with respect to freedom in Hong Kong.” Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, US determines So, maybe they will pull the plug on Hong Kong after September, or maybe not. Pompeo and Trump just realise cancelling Hong Kong’s special status would effectively end any leverage the US has over Beijing with the city. Someone could have told them that. In fact, someone did. Kurt Tong, a former US consul general in Hong Kong and a decent and intelligent man, must have warned his former bosses in Washington repeatedly . Indeed, he has written about this not once, but twice, first with an op-ed titled “Do No Harm in Hong Kong”, last December, in Foreign Affairs , and again, early this month, in the same publication, with “Washington’s Self-Defeating Hong Kong Strategy”. “The United States must defend the status quo, not assist in its demise,” he wrote. He describes the two US laws – one that sets Hong Kong as a separate customs entity but conditional on its promised “high degree of autonomy” and the other that requires annual certification to that effect – as “setting an unintentional but pernicious trap for Washington policymakers… The trap was at risk of snapping shut.” The situation that Tong has warned against has come about, through the amateurish responses of Trump and Pompeo, with full encouragement from the boneheaded local opposition. Washington now has no good options: pretend it’s business as usual, in which case, its Hong Kong policy is discredited. Or press the nuclear button and throw the city under the bus, in which case, its Hong Kong policy – which is supposed to preserve our freedoms – is discredited. That’s a dilemma.