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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

美國國會「美中經濟與安全審查委員會」發表報告,質疑香港逐漸喪失獨特性,建議政府檢視軍民兩用高科技出口政策,應否繼續將香港與中國大陸視為兩個獨立關稅區。

1990年代美國國會通過《美國香港政策法》,以香港制度有別於中國大陸為由,在政治、經濟、貿易政策各方面予以區別對待,美國嚴格限制對華輸出高科技的措施,並不適用於香港。近年有美國議員推動《香港人權與民主法案》,為華府制裁香港和中國大陸提供新彈藥,然而說到底只是個別議員倡議。相比之下,「美中經濟與安全審查委員會」是美國國會轄下跨黨派小組,成員由參眾兩院兩黨領袖推舉,委員會報告的政治分量不能低估,如果特區政府官員掉以輕心,簡單視之為「部分議員看法」,將是嚴重錯誤。

中美貿易戰,香港蒙受的是池魚之殃;今次委員會的建議,卻是直接針對香港而來,劍指中國高科技發展,這已不是貿易戰的延伸,而是中美角力的新戰場。委員會報告以特區政府取締香港民族黨、拒絕向外國記者會副主席馬凱續發工作簽證等事件為例,指控北京持續侵蝕香港政治制度、法治和言論自由,「令香港漸與內地城市無異」。報告以此為由,建議國會要求商務部等政府機構,檢視美國對香港科技出口政策,特別是軍民兩用技術出口管制政策中,把香港與中國大陸視為兩個關稅區的做法。如果美國落實報告建議,不僅會打擊本港創科發展,還將對香港造成嚴重損害。

言論自由和法治是香港基石,特區政府有責任維護,避免落人話柄,不過話說回來,委員會顯然也只是以人權法治作為幌子。根據美國國會授權,委員會職責是調查監察中美之間的貿易和國家安全問題,人權問題本來就不是工作焦點。報告內容顯示,就算沒有馬凱事件,委員會也可照樣搬出大堆「理由」,質疑香港已漸漸跟內地普通城市「沒有分別」。

美國打「香港牌」制華行動升級,香港處境相當凶險,特區政府有需要跟北京研究對策。香港不能放慢創科發展步伐,惟是有可能要像「中國製造2025」一樣,多做事少說話。

■Glossary

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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