BEIJING/WASHINGTON • China said yesterday that it will retaliate after the United States announced it was ending the export of sensitive military items to Hong Kong, in response to a controversial national security law for the city.
Beijing passed the sweeping law yesterday, which critics and many Western governments fear will smother the finance hub’s freedoms and hollow out its autonomy.
“US 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 US’ wrongful actions, China will take necessary countermeasures.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that the US 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 US State Department will end all exports to Hong Kong of items on its controlled list. These include advanced ammunition and military hardware that already need the green light from the Trump administration and Congress.
“We cannot risk these items falling into the hands of the People’s Liberation Army, whose primary purpose is to uphold the dictatorship of the CCP by any means necessary,” Mr Pompeo said in a statement, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
The direct impact will be modest. The US State Department last year approved US$2.4 million (S$3.4 million) in defence sales to Hong Kong, of which US$1.4 million worth were actually sent, including firearms and ammunition for law enforcement, according to official figures.
The US Commerce Department simultaneously said it was revoking its special status for Hong Kong.
It will now treat the city the same as China for dual-use exports that have both military and civilian applications – and which are highly restricted when sought by Beijing.
China promised autonomy for Hong Kong before Britain returned the territory in 1997, but does not want a repeat of the massive and sometimes destructive protests that rocked the territory last year.
The export limitations could have larger implications for some multinational companies, including some semiconductor firms, that will now be barred from sending products or sharing certain high-tech information with the territory. Some multinational companies that chose Hong Kong as a base for doing business with China have begun considering moves to other locations, including Singapore.
“It gives us no pleasure to take this action, which is a direct consequence of Beijing’s decision to violate its own commitments under the United Nations-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration,” said Mr Pompeo.
US President Donald Trump’s administration has already declared that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous in the eyes of America and has been rolling out a series of measures in response.
Last Friday, the US State Department said it was restricting visas for an unspecified number of Chinese officials seen as responsible for infringing on the autonomy of the Asian financial hub.
In response, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Monday that “China has decided to impose visa restrictions against American individuals who have behaved egregiously on matters concerning Hong Kong”.
The current volume of trade the US does with Hong Kong is small.
The city represented just 2.2 per cent of American exports in 2018, with defence and high-technology items making up a sliver of that.
But the export limitations could have larger implications for some multinational companies, including some semiconductor firms, that will now be barred from sending products or sharing certain high-tech information with the territory.
Some multinational companies that chose Hong Kong as a base for doing business with China have begun considering moves to other locations, including Singapore.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said further actions to eliminate Hong Kong’s differential treatment were “also being evaluated”.
“We urge Beijing to immediately reverse course and fulfil the promises it has made to the people of Hong Kong and the world,” he said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES