Editorial : HK Human Rights and Democracy Act

【明報專訊】US president Donald Trump has officially signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. It remains to be seen what the Chinese government's countermeasures will be. However, it is certain that Washington has vastly adjusted its policies towards Hong Kong, and the antagonism between China and the US has risen in gravity and intensity. This will definitely manifest itself in the "battleground" of Hong Kong.

The Democratic Party and the Republican Party in the US might be bitter enemies, but they are increasingly aligned in their policies towards China. Hindering China's rise and preventing China from challenging the US's status have become a consensus of the two parties. Last week, the US Senate and House of Representatives adopted the final version of the Act with almost no opposition. It was to come into force pending the president's signature. The Beijing authorities made several moves to raise the issue with the US and protest the act. Not only did they summon the US ambassador to China, but Yang Jiechi, who is in charge of foreign affairs, even openly warned that the act would severely harm China's interests and pleaded with the US to prevent the act from becoming law.

Theoretically, Donald Trump had several options concerning how to handle the act. He could have chosen to do nothing instead of signing it. That way, the act would have become law automatically ten days after its passage in Congress. He could have vetoed the act and put the ball back in Congress's court. He could have persuaded Congress not to veto the president's decision, or he could have waited quietly for Congress to veto the president's decision by a two-thirds majority. To Trump, each option carried different political overtones. Allowing the act to come into force automatically would have meant low-key acquiescence. Vetoing the act would have been a friendly gesture to China. Even if the two chambers of Congress had exercised their ultimate right of veto to bring the act into effect, Trump could have said to China that that was not his decision so as to minimise the impact of the incident on the trade talks. But Trump ultimately chose to disregard China's opposition and sign the act into law himself.

Foreign news agencies claim that Trump's decision was related to the pan-democrats' landslide victory in the District Council elections. While it is impossible to validate this theory, public opinion in the US has clearly put some pressure on Trump. Opinion polls show that nearly 70% of Americans are for expressing support for Hong Kong protesters. Furthermore, as the Senate and the House of Representatives adopted the act almost unanimously, Trump could have been suspected of taking a weak stance on China if he had vetoed the act. That would have given fodder to his opponents and would have been detrimental to his re-election bid.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs is angry that the act has been signed into law and has criticised the US for "harbouring a malicious intent and being a hegemony in nature". This reflects that China is elevating the matter to a level that concerns the US's strategic intent. As the US has discarded its veneer of friendliness to adopt the act, China is unlikely to let it slide. Even if reaching a trade deal for the first phase will be in China's interests, it is far from certain that the trade talks will not be affected. At present it is difficult to predict what kind of countermeasure China will take. Given what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said, the intensity of the countermeasures will depend on how "single-mindedly" the US will execute the sanctions.

明報社評2019.11.29:港成中美長期「戰場」 法案簽署僅屬序曲







validate : to prove that sth is true

veneer : an outer appearance of a particular quality that hides the true nature of sb/sth

single-mindedly : having one driving purpose or resolve : determined, dedicated

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