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Saturday, Oct 31, 2020

Trump’s executive order revoking Hong Kong’s special status: what is it and who will be affected?

United States can ban anyone deemed to be undermining freedom in the city from holding property in the country and refuse them and their family entry. Existing punitive tariffs the US imposed on mainland China will be applied to Hong Kong exports

In retaliation for Beijing’s decision to impose a national security law on Hong Kong, US President Donald Trump has signed a law to sanction individuals and banks deemed to have aided the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and an executive order ending the city’s preferential trading status.

The executive order suspends or revokes the different and preferential treatment for the city stipulated by the Hong Kong policy act of 1992.

“Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China,” Trump said at a press conference on Tuesday, in response to the security law which came into effect on June 30. “No special privileges, no special economic treatment, and no export of sensitive technologies.”

In his executive order, Trump went on to say that the decision by Beijing to impose the new law, among other things, “fundamentally undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat, which has its source in substantial part outside the United States, to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. I hereby declare a national emergency with respect to that threat”.

Here are the key changes set out by the executive order.

Will there be visa restrictions for Hong Kong passport holders?

The order says: “Eliminate the preference for Hong Kong passport holders as compared to PRC passport holder.”

However the application process is the same and the visa validity period is the same for Hongkongers and mainlanders.

Currently, Hong Kong passport holders are entitled to apply for multiple-entry US visas valid for up to 10 years, issued by the US consulate general. Holders of mainland Chinese passports are required to file applications to America’s embassy in Beijing, or its consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan or Shenyang. At present, Chinese passport holders can apply for a multiple-entry visa valid for up to 10 years.

But the process is different for journalists. Those from Hong Kong can seek a five-year multiple-entry visa to the US, while mainlanders are allowed to only apply for a single-entry visa valid up to three months.

Hong Kong has been lobbying the US government for many years to be added to the visa waiver programme, which allows travellers visa-free access for tourism or business in the US for up to 90 days. By the end of last year, the Immigration Department had issued 12.39 million Hong Kong passports.

What happens to people’s property in the US?

Individuals or entities determined by the US secretary of state will be blocked from investing, transferring, exporting, withdrawing or dealing with any property or interests in property in the US. It is unclear what property is included, which can be bank accounts, assets, investments or real estate.

The people in question include Hong Kong government officials or leaders involved in developing and enforcing the national security law. They also include those who undermine democratic development in the city, censor or penalise freedom of expression.

Others are those who have materially helped these people or sponsored them in terms of financial, material or technological support. These people and their spouses and children who are deemed to be detrimental to US interests and attempt to enter the country as an immigrant or non-immigrant will be denied permission.

What are the changes to exports between the US and Hong Kong?

Existing punitive tariffs the US imposed on the mainland will be applied to Hong Kong exports.

Licence exceptions for exports and re-exports to the city and transfer within the mainland are revoked, while exports of defence items are banned. According to the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, US exports subject to export control and shipped to Hong Kong amounted to between US$400 million and US$500 million each year from 2016 to 2018, consisting mainly of telecoms and information security products and electronics.

The US is one of the city’s top trading partners. But the Hong Kong government said total merchandise trade stood at HK$517 billion or 6.2 per cent of the city’s total last year, whereas Hong Kong’s domestic exports to the US was HK$3.7 billion, or less than 2 per cent of local manufacturing output and less than 0.1 per cent of the city’s total exports. But for the decade to 2018, the US incurred an annual trade surplus of at least US$30 billion with Hong Kong, the highest among America’s trading partners. But amid the trade war between the United States and China, the surplus fell to US$26 billion last year.

What about the sale and import of defence materials from the US?

This will end too. A police source said the force did not rely solely on the Americans and the force’s current weapons came from many other places, including the mainland. “It is not like the US is providing us something so unique that we can’t find alternatives in the market,” he said.

How will cooperation on education and academic research be affected?

Washington will take steps to terminate the Fulbright exchange programme, the US government’s flagship international education exchange initiative that allowed students to travel to and from the mainland and Hong Kong. Since 1996, 173 Hongkongers have taken part.

The Institute of Space and Earth Information Science at Chinese University will also no longer enjoy special treatment. However, the executive order noted cooperation over earth sciences between the institute and the US Geological Survey at the Department of the Interior had already ended. Chinese University said the memorandum of understanding, which began in 2009, ended in November last year. The institute “did not renew the MOU afterwards”, the university said.

How will the extradition agreements between Hong Kong and the US be affected?

The agreements on transferring fugitives and sentenced people will be suspended. According to government figures, Hong Kong’s Department of Justice received seven applications from the US between 2015 and 2018 for the surrender of suspects, with the city granting two. In 2018, there were two applications, but none approved. In 2017, there was one application but it was rejected.

Will cooperation with police be affected?

The provision for training members of the Hong Kong Police Force will end. But a senior police source at the directorate rank said the restrictions posed “minimal impact” on the force as only a few officers were sent to the US for short programmes every year, and it had suspended the arrangement a while ago amid tension between the US and China.

“The US thinks we will therefore suffer, but seriously it doesn’t hurt at all,” the insider said. “It does not affect our performance and we actually can still visit organisations of many other countries.

Police chief Chris Tang Ping-keung once received training at the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy, while his deputies attended courses at Harvard University and Stanford University. Training for the police force and other security services was provided by the US State Department’s International Law Enforcement Academies.

Will Hong Kong residents find greener pastures by seeking refugee status?

Not necessarily. The US promised to reallocate admissions to Hongkongers seeking asylum in the country within the maximum quota set by an annual mechanism called Presidential Determination, based on humanitarian concerns. But the condition is subject to feasibility and consistency with the applicable law.

The Trump administration slashed the number of refugee admissions annually since 2017, from predecessor Barack Obama's 110,000 in 2017 to 45,000 in 2018, 30,000 in 2019 and 18,000 for 2020. In 2019, the US admitted 2,801 refugees from East or South Asia, representing 31 per cent of the regional ceiling of 9,000.

What happens now?

Within the next 15 days, the US administration will proceed with amendment of regulations.


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