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U.S. Rescinds Special Treatment For Hong Kong. What's Next For The Island?


President Trump is punishing China for its crackdown on freedom in Hong Kong. Yesterday, he signed both legislation and an executive order targeting officials in Beijing with potential sanctions and overturning special treatment for Hong Kong. The executive order ends the U.S. extradition treaty with Hong Kong, suspends military and police training on the island and subjects Hong Kong to the same trade tariffs as mainland China.

Hong Kong has long been a center of finance media and industry in Southeast Asia, but can it stay that way? Let's ask Lindsey Ford from the Brookings Institution. She worked on Asia policy at the Department of Defense during the Obama administration.

Lindsey, welcome.


MCCAMMON: From the perspective of the U.S. government, of the Trump administration, what is the goal of these actions?

FORD: This should not have been unexpected. And I suspect this was not unexpected by the mainland either. You know, I think this was a response to the recent legislation that eliminated a lot of the autonomy that Hong Kong had been promised when it reverted back to mainland control in the 1990s. So I think that the U.S. response here was simply to say, if the Chinese government is going to take away a lot of what made Hong Kong special - it's a autonomy and the ability of the Hong Kong government to conduct its own domestic affairs with different types of rules and individual freedoms than people in mainland China - enjoy, then countries like the United States can no longer allow the mainland government to use Hong Kong as a type of pass-through and subject it to Chinese rules while at the same time still having it enjoy all of these special privileges from the United States and other types of democracies.

MCCAMMON: Do you foresee other countries following suit here?

FORD: I think that's unclear. We've certainly seen other Western democracies speak up about the concerns that they have about the degree to which China is impinging on Hong Kong's autonomy. I don't know that we will necessarily see sort of the wide-ranging steps that we've seen out of the United States. And I think, to some extent, that will depend on how we see the implementation of this National Security Act play out.

MCCAMMON: Beijing has issued a statement in response saying, in part, quote, "China will respond as necessary and impose sanctions on the relevant American individuals and entities." How worried is China about this maneuver?

FORD: I think there is certainly concern right now that not just the United States but other countries in Asia have been speaking up more forcefully in response to what China is doing. And so I think that you are going to continue to see an effort out of Beijing to try to convince other Asian countries not to follow the U.S. lead. On the other hand, I don't see any signs that there is going to be a widespread economic decoupling from all of the Asian countries and China. The supply chains and the economies are simply too integrated.

MCCAMMON: And what about Hong Kong? How worried is Hong Kong about losing this special status?

FORD: I think, unfortunately, that Hong Kong citizens are the biggest victims in this entire situation. The impact on individual Hong Kong citizens not to be able to actually fulfill and enjoy a lot of the rights and privileges that they have been promised and a lot of lack of clarity that they have about what is even permissible at this point under the new sort of sweeping national security provisions that the mainland has put on Hong Kong - that, I think, is the most significant loss here. Citizens who have been very used to being able to voice their opinions, to vote, to have a say in what the direction of their own city looks like fear that they will not have that anymore.

MCCAMMON: Lindsey Ford is a David M. Rubenstein fellow at the Brookings Institution. She's also an informal adviser to the Biden presidential campaign.

Lindsey, thanks so much.

FORD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.