Commentary: The Hong Kong act complicates worlds most important relationship

BEIJING: In the end, it took only 20 years for US-China relations to come full circle.

Donald Trumps decision to sign the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law will further complicate the worlds most important bilateral diplomatic relationship.




Under the act, the US secretary of state is required to make a determination every year as to whether the “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees Hong Kongs independent legal system and civil liberties is intact.

If it is not, the US could revoke special economic and commercial privileges that it extends to the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

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That, in turn, has provoked a response from China and could enrage Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whose administration insists that it continues to honour one country, two systems and is hypersensitive to any suggestions to the contrary.


It is easy to forget now but it was only two decades ago that US-China relations were regularly roiled by a similar annual review process.

Throughout the 1990s, in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, the Bush and Clinton administrations renewed Chinas “most-favoured nation” trade status every year.

This simply ensured the tariffs imposed on its exports to the US were the same as those for other trading partners.

China and the US have both sounded positive notes on progress of the trade talks, providing support to global markets. (File photo: AFP/Johannes EISELE)

And each year, Chinas MFN renewal was subject to a heated debate in the US Congress, with legislators threatening to revoke it because of Beijings human rights record.

But a coalition of pro-business Republicans and farm-state Democrats, urged on by US multinational companies, would block these attempts to revoke Chinas MFN status.

By the late 1990s, annual renewal of Chinas MFN status was assured.

READ: Commentary: The US and China would like nothing more than to end the trade war

Bill Clinton gave China “permanent” MFN status in 2000 and paved the way for its entry into the World Trade Organization a year later.

Max Baucus, Barack Obamas last ambassador to China, was treated as a hero during his time in Beijing for his efforts — as a Democratic senator for Montana — on behalf of MFN renewal.

For now, that pattern will hold. Trump administration officials have made it clear to their Chinese counterparts that the president could not veto a piece of legislation that sailed through Congress with veto-proof majorities.

China said it would respond with 'firm countermeasures' after Donald Trump signed into law a bill recognising Hong Kong's rights. (Photo: AFP/MANDEL NGAN)

In a statement apparently aimed at mollifying Chinese anger, Mr Trump said he had signed the act “out of respect for President Xi” and “in hope that … China and Hong Kong will be able to amicablyRead More – Source