Beijing — China said Tuesday it will retaliate after the U.S. announced it was ending the export of sensitive military items to Hong Kong in response to Beijing imposing a controversial national security law on the semi-autonomous city. China’s rubber-stamp parliament formally passed the sweeping law for Hong Kong on Tuesday, which critics and many western governments fear will smother the global financial hub’s freedoms and hollow out its autonomy.
“U.S. attempts to obstruct China advancing the Hong Kong national security legislation through so-called sanctions will never prevail,” said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian. “In response to the U.S.’s wrongful actions, China will take necessary countermeasures.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that the U.S. was ending the export of sensitive military items to Hong Kong because Washington “can no longer distinguish between the export of controlled items to Hong Kong or to mainland China.”
The State Department will end the export of all items on its controlled list to Hong Kong, which includes products ranging from advanced ammunition to military hardware that already require approval from the White House and Congress.
The new law
Tam Yiu-Chung, the only official representative for Hong Kong in the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, confirmed the law had been approved on Tuesday. China’s rubber-stamp congress first approved the controversial new security law at the end of May.
As CBS News correspondent Ramy Inocencio reported then, they were a direct reaction by Beijing to the pro-democracy movement in the semi-autonomous southern region, which Beijing blames on foreign interference.
Even before the law became official the U.S. government declared Beijing in breach of the agreement reached in the 1990s that grants Hong Kong a large degree of autonomy from mainland China.
The law formally bans treason, secession, sedition and subversion in Hong Kong. Speaking Tuesday, Tam said violators of the secretive law would not face the death sentence, but he didn’t give any further detail on how the measures would be enforced. He told reporters only that China hoped “the law will serve as a deterrent to prevent people from stirring up trouble.”
Many Hong Kongers, along with the U.S. and other foreign powers, fear China will use the law to severely erode the freedoms Hong Kong has enjoyed under the “one country, two systems” framework since it was handed back to China in 1997 after decades of British colonial rule.
Under that system, which provisioned for the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and an independent judiciary system in Hong Kong until 2047, the region has flourished into a global financial powerhouse. The framework has had major economic benefits not only for Hong Kong’s residents, but also for the U.S. and China, enabling commerce and trade with few constraints.
Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed administrator Carrie Lam said Tuesday that that region’s police force would still carry out prosecutions and vowed that “differences of opinion” would still be respected, in a bid to calm an angry reaction inside the city as pro-democracy activists called for protests on Wednesday.
Lam insisted the new national security law would not infringe upon Hong Kong’s independent judiciary.
Hong Kong’s special status
Last year the U.S. Congress, during the height of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy unrest, passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. It required Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to certify the city’s autonomous status, under the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, every year.
At the end of May, just before the People’s Congress approved the new law, he said that status could no longer be confirmed, effectively taking away the region’s special trading status, which could force it to start trading with the U.S. under the much tighter regulations that apply to mainland China.
The declaration by Pompeo opened the door for the White House to scrap the special U.S. trade and economic ties with the city — with the aim of causing pain for China and Communist Party-linked entities. Washington has yet to outline the details of any punitive actions it might take in addition to the halt to the sale of the military items announced Monday.