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Wednesday, June 19, 2019, 23:26
Separate customs territory status is not a gift from US
By Lam Hoi
Wednesday, June 19, 2019, 23:26 By Lam Hoi

The United States has repeatedly used the controversy over Hong Kong’s extradition law amendments as a pretext to pick on Hong Kong, threatening to reassess its relations with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and even abolish the preferential treatment given to the city as a separate customs territory from the Chinese mainland. This has raised concern in the Hong Kong community, with some worrying that the city is doomed to lose this special status.

While we treasure the long-standing trade and economic cooperation with the US, it must be a collaborative relationship based on goodwill, equality, mutual respect and benefits, rather than using business and trade as a way to interfere with the internal affairs of Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, or to force Hong Kong to succumb to the demands from Washington. In particular, we oppose the way in which they find excuses to batter and mess up Hong Kong in a bid to contain China. We cannot give in to such tactics. As we all know, so far Hong Kong has been rated as “the world’s freest economy” for 25 consecutive years by the authoritative Heritage Foundation based in Washington, DC. Such prestige is certainly not an undeserved reputation. If Hong Kong genuinely poses a threat to the US national security and its economic interests, would they still award such recognition to Hong Kong?

Analysts believe Washington still wishes to use Hong Kong to contain China, as well as to collect intelligence, engage in espionage warfare and obtain economic benefits from Hong Kong. They can exert pressure on Hong Kong, but not necessarily have to resort to a face-off. Hence, in the context of the current Sino-US tension, Washington’s attempt to hold Hong Kong’s separate customs territory hostage is at most political blackmail intended to contain the Chinese mainland by battering Hong Kong

Hong Kong people should take note that the HKSAR’s status as a separate customs territory is not a gift from the US. Hong Kong has been a world-famous trade center for centuries and known as the most prominent among the three free ports in the world. The city is also the gateway and bridge for the West to access the Chinese mainland. It is a founding member and a signatory party of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade as well as World Trade Organization. Hong Kong is recognized by the WTO as a separate customs territory, a status which is currently enjoyed by only a few regions including Macao, Taiwan and the European Union. Hong Kong has kept this status after China became a member of the WTO. Hong Kong still retains a trade system for US enterprises different from the one on the Chinese mainland even after its reunification with the mainland. As for the US, the role of Hong Kong in accessing the economic base of the mainland cannot possibly be replaced by another city in Asia. Therefore, the US recognizes Hong Kong as a separate member in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Financial Action Task Force, Financial Stability Board, WTO, etc. China has also tacitly consented to Washington’s effort in establishing their sphere of economic and trade influence in Hong Kong. Currently more than 1,300 US companies have set up regional headquarters, regional and local offices in the HKSAR, which is more than any country or region in the world. Hong Kong receives the sixth highest amount of foreign direct investment from the US and is the ninth largest importer of US goods, which provide them with the largest trade surplus than any economies in the world. Each year the US attained more than $30 billion trade surplus from Hong Kong, which creates approximately 200,000 jobs for its economy.

The interests of the US and Hong Kong are widely intertwined where the former obtains substantial benefits in this bilateral relationship. A win-win outcome can be achieved for both parties only if the economic and trade relations are based on mutual benefits. Breaking up these symbiotic relations would mean losing certain benefits for Hong Kong, but the city might not lose the most if that happened. Unlike the post-World War II era when the US possessed diplomatic power that could sweep the globe, it has now lost its former financial strength and economic prowess. From the economic and trade perspective, Washington does not have any reason to foil Hong Kong. Even if the US were reckless enough to unilaterally revoke the city’s status as a separate customs territory, undermining Hong Kong would only harm its national interests and directly impact its economic and political interests in the Asia-Pacific region and the world at large.

Analysts believe Washington still wishes to use Hong Kong to contain China, as well as to collect intelligence, engage in espionage warfare and obtain economic benefits from Hong Kong. They can exert pressure on Hong Kong, but not necessarily have to resort to a face-off. Hence, in the context of the current Sino-US tension, Washington’s attempt to hold Hong Kong’s separate customs territory hostage is at most political blackmail intended to contain the Chinese mainland by battering Hong Kong.

In this capricious and intricate state of affairs, the people of Hong Kong have to be clearheaded in discerning the holistic circumstances. The SAR government should proactively cooperate with the mainland and rely on the motherland to cope with Washington’s maneuvers. By safeguarding the century-old foundation of the “Pearl of the Orient”, Hong Kong can continue to play its role in national rejuvenation.

This is an excerpt translation of a Chinese article published earlier in Hong Kong Commercial Daily.

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