The reactions to President Trumpâs decision fell along familiar political fault lines in a city wracked by nearly a year of protests.
HONG KONG â Hong Kong officials reacted with a mix of anxiety, resignation and defiance to President Trumpâs announcement that the United States would end its special relationship with the city, reflecting the semiautonomous territoryâs deep political divide over its relationship with mainland China.
Mr. Trumpâs move, which could imperil the cityâs status as an global financial hub, took aim at Beijingâs new national security rules over Hong Kong, as well as fast-deteriorating relations between the United States and China. And the responses it garnered split along familiar lines.
While Chinese officials were quiet on the issue early Saturday, pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong echoed their recent criticism of the United States for intervening in what they called Chinaâs internal affairs. They said the city would withstand the blow, in part by leaning on its stronger ties with the mainland.
Some pro-democracy supporters welcomed the announcement, saying it would punish China for national security rules that threaten to strip away some of Hong Kongâs autonomy.
Others worried that ending the special relationship with the United States would layer economic suffering on top of a protracted political crisis. Their fear is that Hong Kong has become collateral damage in a fast-escalating rivalry between two superpowers.
âThis looks like a new Cold War, and Hong Kong is being made a new Berlin,â said Claudia Mo, a lawmaker in the cityâs pro-democracy camp. âWe are caught right in the middle of it.â
Hong Kongâs status as a financial capital has long hinged on its differences from the mainland, namely its guarantee of civil liberties and rule of law. Many global companies use Hong Kong as their gateway to Asian markets.
But the turbulent political protests of last year, followed by the coronavirus pandemic, have hobbled the cityâs once-bustling economy, and any move by the United States could exacerbate the damage.
Details of Mr. Trumpâs plan remain scant, but the president said on Friday that the United States would subject Hong Kong to many of the same restrictions as mainland China, especially on trade and law enforcement.
Officials in Hong Kong and China would also be sanctioned over the decision to impose national security laws. World leaders in the West and elsewhere have decried that move as a violation of the high degree of autonomy that China promised to the city in 1997, when Britain returned the former colony to its rule.
Hong Kongâs government, which is backed by Beijing, reacted with fury. Teresa Cheng, the secretary for justice, said it was âcompletely false and wrongâ to claim that the city was no longer distinct from China.
Intervening in Chinaâs right to impose security laws on its own territory amounted to âcoercion,â she told reporters on Saturday, echoing an argument made by top Chinese officials in recent days.
Regina Ip, a pro-Beijing member of the Hong Kong legislature, suggested that the United States was bluffing and would not drastically curtail the cityâs economic standing. While revoking Hong Kongâs special status could dent the territoryâs reputation, the United States also has significant commercial interests in Hong Kong, she noted.
âThere are 85,000 American citizens in Hong Kong who have been living here happily,â she said in an interview. âI donât think the U.S. would easily punish Hong Kong to rock the boat.â
The reaction among Hong Kongâs pro-democracy politicians, who have been demoralized by Chinaâs security push, was more mixed.
Dennis Kwok, a pro-democracy lawmaker, said Mr. Trumpâs decision would significantly damage the local economy. But he said it was the ânatural consequenceâ of Beijingâs tightening grip on the city.
Given the Chinese authoritiesâ refusal to heed international warnings, Mr. Kwok said, âthereâs nothing the world can do but to call them out.â
Alvin Yeung, another opposition lawmaker, said he hoped Mr. Trumpâs decision would push the Chinese and Hong Kong governments to reconsider the national security laws.
âHong Kong and Beijing still have a chance to undo the harm,â Mr. Yeung said. âThe ball is now in Beijing and Hong Kongâs court. Itâs entirely up to them.â
Some protesters, especially younger or more aggressive ones, cheered the United Statesâs declaration, embracing it as a fulfillment of a protest philosophy, âIf we burn, you burn with usâ â meaning that if Hong Kong is brought down, China will be, too.
China has long relied on Hong Kong as a crucial financial gateway. Chinese companies, including state-owned enterprises, take advantage of the cityâs looser financial regulations to raise capital. Chinese individuals, including many relatives of top Communist Party officials, do business and own property in the city.
But the territoryâs importance to China has waned in recent decades as mainland cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen built up their own financial infrastructure. In 2018, four Chinese cities each handled more container traffic than Hong Kong, according to the World Shipping Council.
Ms. Mo said she did not believe that Beijing would relent, adding that Mr. Trumpâs move could actually harden Chinese leadersâ resolve.
âBeijing must have considered such consequences and decided it could take them,â she said. She said the party would retaliate, and that it was âjust a matter of how and when.â
But the Trump administration had been signaling such a move for days. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said this week that China was prepared to take âall necessary countermeasuresâ against countries taking actions over the Hong Kong issue.
Mr. Trumpâs move will almost certainly bolster Beijingâs narrative that foreign powers are interfering in Hong KongÂ â a key argument behind its push for national security laws.
âThis hegemonic act of attempting to interfere in Hong Kong affairs and grossly interfere in Chinaâs internal affairs will not frighten the Chinese people and is doomed to fail,â read an editorial published Saturday by Peopleâs Daily, the Communist Partyâs flagship newspaper. The editorial did not mention Mr. Trump by name.
Global Times, a state-run Chinese newspaper, said in an unsigned editorial that Mr. Trumpâs moves would only strengthen Chinaâs position and further unite its people against the United States.
âWashington is making a bigger gamble, but Americaâs economy is not as fat as it once was, and it still coughs from the coronavirus,â the editorial read. âTheir extreme tactics amount to nothing more than the slow suicide of a superpower.â
Under its special relationship with the United States, Hong Kong gets preferential treatment on trade, with few tariffs. So Beijingâs options for direct, tit-for-tat retaliation could be limited unless it is willing to hurt Hong Kong as well. Americans enjoy visa-free travel, but if Beijing took aim on that front, it could further damage Hong Kongâs position as a global financial center.
âI think that the most probable thing is that China is ready to live under U.S. sanctions,â said Shen Dingli, a Shanghai-based international relations scholar who studies the U.S.-China relationship.
Vivian Wang reported from Hong Kong and Amy Qin from Taipei, Taiwan. Elaine Yu contributed reporting from Hong Kong.
World news – In Hong Kong, Anxiety and Defiance Over Trumpâs Move to Cut Ties