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China Takes A Step Toward Total Control Over Hong Kong


China is one step closer to having near total control over Hong Kong. Today, Beijing's legislature said it would start drafting a sweeping new national security law. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Hong Kong's autonomy from China over. So what will happen with Hong Kong's special trading status with the U.S.? And what does this mean for U.S. relations with mainland China? NPR's Emily Feng is in Beijing with the latest and joins us now. Hi, Emily.


MARTIN: Tell us more about what this law would mean for Hong Kong.

FENG: If passed, it outlaws any, quote, "acts and activities endangering national security," which is incredibly broad. And if implemented, it effectively abolishes this legal firewall between Hong Kong and mainland China. Today, as you mentioned, Beijing lawmakers voted to start drafting this law. Only one person out of more than 2,800 Beijing lawmakers voted against the proposal. So Hong Kong is, once again, protesting over the weekend. And as of yesterday, more than 500 people were arrested over this week.

MARTIN: So what's the U.S. saying? I mean, what are U.S. officials saying about this new national security law and the implications?

FENG: Well, in a tweet heard around the world yesterday, Mike Pompeo said Hong Kong autonomy is over. And that's not just a technical distinction. It puts the U.S. and China in uncharted geopolitical waters because, according to a U.S. bill passed last year, that could start a process where Hong Kong's special trade status with the U.S. is revoked. Hong Kong right now is not subject to certain sanctions, tariffs, export controls that are put on mainland China. And so this is a really big deal if that status is revoked. Here's Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell talking about this decision process that's now ongoing about whether to take away Hong Kong's status.


DAVID STILWELL: We're going to do this in a smart way, in a way that takes care of the things and the people we care about while, at the same time, letting Beijing know that what they're doing is - contravenes what they agreed to do back in '97.

FENG: By '97, Stilwell is talking about this international treaty between the U.K. and China struck in 1997 to allow Hong Kong to maintain some of its limited autonomy until 2047, which the U.S. says has not happened.

MARTIN: So what would revocation of its trading status - what are the practical implications of that for Hong Kong?

FENG: It means that there could be more restrictions on financial transactions between Hong Kong and the U.S. It also means that any export controls or trade sanctions that are put on China would now apply to Hong Kong as well. That could take away Hong Kong's status as a global business and financial center. And the real question now is, will this nudge Beijing's mind on whether to give Hong Kong more space? And the answer is, likely, no.

Chinese cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen are working to overtake Hong Kong as global business hubs with generous Beijing support. Certain multinational businesses have signaled that they'll choose to operate in Hong Kong anyways. And Beijing has framed this move from the U.S. as another tool to limit China's rise.

MARTIN: And obviously, this doesn't do much to improve U.S.-China relations, which are already bad.

FENG: This week has seen a flurry of U.S. activity on China. For example, yesterday, the House passed a bill that sanctions Chinese officials who are responsible behind the mass detention and forced labor of Muslims in China. Two U.S. Senators are working to block all visas for Chinese grad students in technology and engineering. And the two countries continue to clash on the coronavirus. So things are not looking good going forward.

MARTIN: NPR's Emily Feng reporting from Beijing. Thank you.

FENG: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.