Editorial : Hong Kong thrust to forefront of Sino-US rivalry

【明報專訊】THE US-China Economic and Security Review Commission under the US Congress has published a report, querying whether Hong Kong is gradually losing its uniqueness. The report recommends that the government evaluate the US export control policy for dual-use high technology and whether Hong Kong and mainland China should continue to be treated as separate customs areas.

The United States-Hong Kong Policy Act was adopted by the US Congress in the 1990s. Citing the differences in the political system between Hong Kong and mainland China, the act subjects the two regions to different treatments in areas such as political, economic and trade policies. The US's strict restrictions on the export of high technology to China do not apply to Hong Kong. In recent years, some US lawmakers have been pushing ahead with the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which could be a new tool for Washington's sanctions against Hong Kong and mainland China. But the bill, after all, is just a proposition made by certain lawmakers. The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, in contrast, is a cross-party committee under the US Congress, with its members nominated by congressional leaders from the two parties in both chambers. The political influence of a report from the committee must not be underestimated. It would be an egregious mistake for HKSAR officials to treat it lightly and dismiss it as "views from certain lawmakers only".

What the trade war has brought to Hong Kong so far is collateral damage. But the recommendations made by the committee are directly targeted at Hong Kong, with the sword trained at China's development of high technology in particular. Rather than an extension of the trade war, it is a new front in the rivalry between China and the US. Citing incidents such as the HKSAR's banning of the Hong Kong National Party and its refusal to renew the work visa of Victor Mallet, vice-president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club, the report accuses Beijing of continually whittling away at Hong Kong's political institutions, rule of law and freedom of speech, which it argues is "moving Hong Kong closer to becoming like any other Chinese city". The report thus recommends that Congress direct the US Department of Commerce and other relevant government agencies to assess the adequacy of the US's policies for the export of technology to Hong Kong, the export control policy for dual-use technology in particular, and the practice of treating Hong Kong and China as separate customs areas. If the US Congress implements these recommendations, Hong Kong's development of innovation and technology, as well as the city as a whole, will be seriously affected.

Free speech and the rule of law are the cornerstone of Hong Kong. The SAR government has an obligation to safeguard them so as not to become a lightning rod for criticism. But it has to be said that the committee is obviously using human rights and the rule of law as a pretext. The committee was mandated by the US Congress to investigate and monitor trade and national security issues between China and the US. The issue of human rights has never been its focus. As shown by the report, even if there had not been the Victor Mallet case, the committee would have cited a plethora of "reasons" nevertheless to suggest that Hong Kong is "moving closer to becoming like any other Chinese city".

Hong Kong is in real danger when the US plays the "Hong Kong card" in its escalation of the containment of China. The HKSAR government needs to search for a countermeasure with the Beijing authorities. While Hong Kong's development of innovation and technology cannot be slowed down, it might have to try to do more and talk less — just as how "Made in China 2025" is being pursued.

明報社評2018.11.16:美阻中國高科技發展 香港被推上風口浪尖







collateral : connected with sth else, but in addition to it and less important

train sth at sb : to aim sth such as a gun or camera at someone or something

lightning rod : a person or thing that attracts criticism, especially if the criticism is then not directed at sb/sth else

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