By Chris Matthews, MarketWatch
A previous version of this article incorrectly implied that citizens of Hong Kong can travel to the U.S. without a visa. We regret the error.
The governments of the U.S., Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement Thursday reiterating their “deep concern regarding Beijing’s decision to impose a national security law on Hong Kong,” after China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress passed legislation Thursday that could greatly curtail democratic freedoms.
The new law, imposed without the consent of Hong Kong’s elected Legislative Council, would ban activities such as “splitting the country, subverting state power” as well foreign interference in Hong Kong, according to the Nikkei Asian Review .
Pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong have said that the law violates the judicial independence that China agreed to when negotiating the 1997 handover of the region with the United Kingdom, which had insured that Hong Kong would operate under capitalist and democratic principles until at least 2047.
“Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of freedom,” the statement reads. “Direct imposition of national security legislation on Hong Kong by the Beijing authorities, rather than through Hong Kong’s own institutions...would curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties and dramatically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous.
The four countries also objected to the move as lying “in direct conflict with its international obligations under the principles of the legally-binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration” made in 1984, which paved the way for the 1997 transfer of Hong Kong to China.
“It also raises the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes, and undermines existing commitments to protect the rights of Hong Kong people - including those set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” the statement continued.
China’s move to impose the new law came in the wake of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration Wednesday that Hong Kong “is no longer autonomous with China.” The Secretary is required by a 2019 law to annually verify Hong Kong’s independence, with that same law — the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act — stating that “Hong Kong must remain sufficiently autonomous from the People’s Republic of China to justify” any special treatment different to that accorded to mainland China.
Hong Kong is currently the beneficiary of numerous privileges not afforded to China, including easier travel between the U.S. and Hong Kong, lower tariffs and mandated access to U.S. dollars. While the Trump Administration has not yet said whether it will revoke any of these privileges, doing so could have significant impact on the Hong Kong economy and U.S. companies with regional headquarters there.