Pompeo calls Hong Kong law an 'affront to all nations'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the new security law China has imposed on Hong Kong was an affront to all nations and Washington would continue to implement President Donald Trump’s directive to end the territory’s special status.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gives a news conference about dealings with China and Iran, and on the fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Washington, U.S., June 24, 2020. Mangel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Pompeo told a news briefing the United States was deeply concerned about the safety of everyone in Hong Kong and said Article 38 of the law passed on Tuesday purported to apply to offenses committed outside Hong Kong and likely included Americans.

“This is outrageous and an affront to all nations,” he said.

Pompeo recalled that on Friday, Washington implemented visa restrictions on those responsible for the Hong Kong crackdown and on Monday announced it would end exports of defense equipment and dual-use technology through the territory.

“Free Hong Kong was one of the world’s most stable, prosperous and dynamic cities. Now, now it will be just another Communist-run city where people will be subject to the party elites’ whims,” Pompeo said.

“We will continue to implement President Trump’s directive to end Hong Kong’s special status.”

Asked how far Washington would go in stripping Hong Kong of its U.S. privileges, Pompeo said: “I’ll just repeat what the president said: He wants to ensure that, with a handful of exceptions, Hong Kong is treated just like mainland China.”

But some analysts doubt the willingness of the Trump administration to take forceful action that would have an impact on Beijing, given extensive U.S. business interests in Hong Kong and Trump’s desire to maintain a trade deal reached with China this year.

“While there are a range of options for further U.S. sanctions, including tariffs, visas, and air travel, none are cost-free to U.S. interests,” said Wendy Cutler, a former senior U.S. trade official.

Kurt Tong, the former U.S. consul general in Hong Kong, said it was difficult to craft responses that did not hurt Hong Kong or the United States more than they hurt China.

“I do expect President Trump to raise tariffs on Hong Kong exports, since he has already said as much. Still, such actions are unlikely to deter Beijing,” he said.

“More dramatic options, such as somehow attacking Hong Kong’s policy of pegging its currency to the U.S. dollar, do not seem practical,” he added.

Pompeo also highlighted a U.S. business advisory issued on Wednesday warning about “reputational, economic, and legal risks” of doing business with entities linked to abuses in China’s Xinjiang region.

Pompeo reiterated concerns about what he called “deeply disturbing reports” that China was imposing a policy of forced sterilization on Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

“We call on all nations, women’s advocates, religious groups and human rights organizations to stand up for the Chinese people’s basic human dignity,” he said.

U.S. officials have told Reuters previously that global human rights sanctions have long been in the works against senior Chinese officials, including a politburo member who is also regional Communist Party chief. But the measures have yet to imposed.

Trump told the Axios news website earlier this month he held off approving such sanctions because of concern it would interfere with trade negotiations with Beijing.

The United Nations estimates more than a million Muslims have been detained in camps in Xinjiang. The State Department has accused China of subjecting them to torture and abuse.

China has denied mistreatment and says the camps provide vocational training and help fight extremism.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Arshad Mohammed, Susan Heavey, Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Dan Grebler and Jonathan Oatis