US Congressional Commission warns that Hong Kong ‘is becoming more like any other Chinese city’


On 14th November 2018, the House of Representative’s US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) publish their annual report on China. The report cites concerns that Hong Kong is becoming ‘more like any other Chinese city’ and calls on the US Department of Commerce to publish assessments of the safety of exporting sensitive US technology to Hong Kong, in view of the erosion of the city’s autonomy.

Read the report here

The executive summary of the report raises concerns about “further curbs on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy”. It says that:

“Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s political system, rule of law and freedom of expression is moving the territory closer to becoming more like any other Chinese city.”

“In light of China’s increasing reach into Hong Kong, some observers argue that the territory is losing the unique characteristics and legal protections that make it important to U.S. interests… Over the long term these trends could diminish Hong Kong’s standing as a global business centre.”

In view of this, and the “greater integration of Hong Kong with the mainland” that will accompany the Belt and Road Initiative and the Greater Bay Area project, it raises concerns about the United States continuing to export sensitive technology into Hong Kong:

“The preservation of Hong Kong’s way of life and maintenance of its status as a global financial and business hub help facilitate U.S. interests. Considerations regarding the export of sensitive U.S. technology to Hong Kong are also predicated on the territory’s separation from the Mainland. In this light, the ongoing decline in rule of law and freedom of expression is a troubling trend.”

The report follows with a recommendation which calls on the U.S Department of Commerce to publish reports assessing whether Hong Kong remains a safe place to export ‘dual-use’ technology with a potential military application. The full recommendation is that:  

“Congress direct the U.S. Department of Commerce and other relevant government agencies to prepare an unclassified public report, with a classified annex, examining and assessing the adequacy of U.S. export control policy for dual-use technology as it relates to U.S. treatment of Hong Kong and China as separate customs areas.”

Alongside comments about existing US customs policy towards Hong Kong, the report considers examples of the erosion of ‘one-country, two-systems’ and Hong Kong’s ‘high degree of autonomy’.

It said that “challenges to freedom of speech and assembly in Hong Kong continue to increase…” Particular concern was raised about the denial of a visa to Financial Times Asia Editor, Victor Mallet; the banning of the Hong Kong National Party which the report claims could pave the way for “national security legislation that would allow the government to further silence prodemocracy organisations”; the status of academic freedom in view of the pressure on Benny Tai Yiu-Ting; and that “self-censorship has become increasingly prevalent in Hong Kong among journalists and media organisations due to mainland China’s rising presence in the territory.”  

The report raised the refusal of the Hong Kong government to grant a US fugitive surrender at Beijing’s insistence, it noted that this was the first time it had happened and it described as a “a troubling case of Beijing’s direct involvement in U.S. Hong Kong affairs”. It also noted that “Beijing denied a US Navy ship a routine port call in Hong Kong for the first time in two years.”

The report claimed that “China’s central government took additional steps toward undermining Hong Kong’s legal autonomy”, particularly citing the co-location arrangement at the West Kowloon Rail Terminus.

This survey of the status of Hong Kong’s autonomy led to two further recommendations, that:

  1. “Congressional inter-parliamentary groups engage parliamentarians from the United Kingdom, EU, and Taiwan in a biennial review of China’s adherence to the Basic Law, with specific attention to rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and press freedom, and issue a report based on its findings after each review.”

  2.   “Members of Congress participate in congressional delegations to Hong Kong and meet with Hong Kong officials, pro-democracy legislators, civil society, and business representatives in the territory and when they visit the United States. In meetings with Hong Kong and Chinese officials, they should raise concerns about Beijing’s adherence to the “one country, two systems” policy and China’s promise to allow Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy.” They should also continue to express support for freedom of expression and rule of law in Hong Kong.”