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Anson Chan chats with US Vice-President Mike Pence in his office in the White House. Photo: Handout

Hong Kong’s former No 2 Anson Chan meets Mike Pence in Washington as US report criticises Beijing ‘intervention’ in city’s affairs

  • Charles Mok, Dennis Kwok and Chan were in Washington at the invitation of the Trump administration
  • State Department report found that ‘tempo of mainland intervention in Hong Kong affairs’ had increased

US Vice-President Mike Pence met Hong Kong’s former deputy leader in Washington on Friday, the first time such a senior government official has done so since 2014 during the Obama administration.

Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, who is now a pro-democracy critic of the Hong Kong government, and opposition lawmakers Charles Mok and Dennis Kwok were in the US capital at the invitation of the White House.

The three met a senior National Security Council (NSC) staff member, and Chan had a brief discussion with Pence about Hong Kong citizens’ human rights, and the special trading relationship between the city and the United States, she told reporters outside the White House.

“The vice-president is clearly concerned about rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, including religious rights,” said Chan, who five years ago met then vice-president Joe Biden at the White House.

Charles Mok (left), Anson Chan and Dennis Kwok outside the White House in Washington on Friday. Photo: Owen Churchill

Their 10-day trip, involving meetings with congressional committees, bar associations and think tanks, coincided with the release of the US government’s annual Hong Kong Policy Act Report.

Issued on Thursday by the State Department, the report found that while the city still enjoyed sufficient autonomy to warrant sustaining special trade relations with the US, “the tempo of mainland central government intervention in Hong Kong affairs – and actions by the Hong Kong government consistent with mainland direction – [has] increased, accelerating negative trends seen in previous periods”.

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According to Chan, Pence had said he appreciated the “special relationship” between Hong Kong and the US.

“And that relationship is based on the fact that as a separate customs territory, the United States Congress passed [the Hong Kong Policy Act] in 1992, which gives Hong Kong special treatment, treatment that is very different from that given to mainland China,” she said.

“And if [the US government’s] perception of ‘one country, two systems’ changes, then we must be concerned that something could be done to change the content of the Hong Kong Policy Act,” said Chan, whose tenure as chief secretary in the 1990s led many to refer to her as the “Iron Lady”, a nod to the tough political style of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

The act stipulates that Hong Kong can enjoy a special trading status separate from that between mainland China and the US because of the one country, two systems principle, under which the city has control over its own political and economic affairs. If the US determines that Hong Kong has insufficient autonomy, it can nullify the act.

Anson Chan, Dennis Kwok and Charles Mok meet Matt Pottinger, senior director for Asian affairs, and officials from the National Security Council in Washington. Photo: Handout

“Hong Kong’s affairs belong purely to the internal politics of China,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Friday in response to the State Department report.

“Foreign governments have no right to interfere. China is fiercely dissatisfied with, and resolutely opposed to, the [report’s] disregard for facts and thoughtless remarks about Hong Kong’s affairs.”

Hong Kong’s current No 2 official Matthew Cheung Kin-chung also said Western countries “misunderstood” and perceived Hong Kong’s autonomy as diminishing based on their own values, particularly on how the city has cracked down on independence advocacy.

“We have to ensure Hong Kong’s uniqueness, but we should be mindful that we would never compromise on national interest, overall interest and territorial integrity,” the chief secretary said on Saturday. “We will only do so by strictly adhering to the Basic Law.”

We have to ensure Hong Kong’s uniqueness, but we should be mindful that we would never compromise on national interest, overall interest and territorial integrity
Matthew Cheung, chief secretary
Hong Kong’s commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah said the city’s special customs status was conferred by the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, rather than any particular country. But he noted that the US report struck a positive note on US-Hong Kong trade and believed the bilateral relationship would continue to develop on a mutual basis.

Speaking after their White House visit, Kwok said the delegation had held an hour-long, “fruitful and constructive” discussion with a director of the NSC.

Those talks, held with the NSC’s senior director for Asian affairs, Matt Pottinger, focused on issues relating to the “health and substance” of the one country, two systems policy, said Kwok, who is a member of Hong Kong’s Civic Party.

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Although there were no immediate plans to scrap the US-Hong Kong Policy Act, Kwok said Washington could consider setting out “red lines” to indicate circumstances under which it would do so.

“They are thinking about clearly defining if they consider the one country, two systems policy to be working, and what would cause the US to nullify the act,” he said.

“They were not specific as to what scenarios [would see the act be revoked] … but the act has always been based on whether the policy is implemented faithfully.”

Of particular concern to Washington were recently proposed amendments to Hong Kong’s extradition laws that would for the first time allow fugitives to be transferred to mainland China, Kwok said.

Those potential changes to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance were not included in the State Department’s recent report.

Kwok said he came away from the White House meeting feeling that the US government was “paying high attention to what’s happening in Hong Kong, and extradition is certainly at the top of their priority when it comes to Hong Kong”.

The administration seemed “particularly interested” in how the proposed changes “would directly affect the interests of the American businesses and citizens who are either in Hong Kong or going through Hong Kong”, he said.

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The delegation will travel to New York on Wednesday for visits to the Council on Foreign Relations, and the New York City Bar Association.

During the trio’s visit to the Washington-based American Bar Association last Wednesday, members of the US lawyers’ alliance expressed concern about the rule of law in Hong Kong, according to an account of the meeting Kwok posted on his Facebook page.

Preserving the 1992 policy act was not only crucial for Hong Kong, Chan said on Friday, “it’s also important to maintaining America’s interests – both economic and strategic interests – in Hong Kong”.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Anson Chan holds White House talks with Mike Pence