BEIJING • Hong Kong will suspend an agreement on mutual legal assistance with the US, China’s Foreign Ministry has said, in a tit-for-tat response to Washington ending some deals with the city.
The US State Department had notified Hong Kong on Wednesday that Washington had suspended or terminated three bilateral agreements with the semi-autonomous city following China’s imposition of a sweeping national security law.
“China urges the US to immediately correct its mistakes,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a news briefing yesterday, as he announced the suspension of the deal on legal assistance.
The agreement, signed in 1997 before Britain returned the city to China, specified that the US and Hong Kong governments would help each other in criminal matters, such as transferring people in custody or searching and confiscating proceeds of crime.
The US State Department said earlier that the three agreements the US ended covered “the surrender of fugitive offenders, the transfer of sentenced persons, and reciprocal tax exemptions on income derived from the international operation of ships”.
Earlier this month, Washington imposed sanctions on Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam along with 10 other senior officials in the city, and criminalised any US financial transactions with the group.
A Hong Kong government spokesman yesterday accused Washington of using the city as a pawn in ties with China.
The Hong Kong authorities said the three agreements terminated on Wednesday were negotiated “in good faith to benefit the peoples and businesses of both sides”.
The Hong Kong spokesman added that ending the tax exemptions would increase the operating costs of shipping companies.
“It will hamper the development of the shipping sector between Hong Kong and the US, and is in nobody’s interest,” he said.
The US decision followed President Donald Trump’s order last month to end Hong Kong’s special status under US law to punish China for what he called “oppressive actions” against the former British colony after Beijing imposed the new security law.
The law punishes any act China considers secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, and has drawn criticism from Western countries that worry it will end the freedoms promised when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule.
Beijing and the Hong Kong government have defended the law as necessary to restoring order and preserving prosperity after months of at times violent anti-government protests last year.
Mr Trump on Wednesday called Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai, briefly detained last week under the security law, a “brave man” and expressed his support for the pro-democracy advocate.
Mr Lai was among 10 people detained on Aug 10, as some 200 police officers searched the newsroom of his Apple Daily tabloid, which is unapologetically critical of China.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE