Tear gas being fired during protests in Hong Kong. Photo: Asia Times

A crucial United States report on whether Hong Kong enjoys sufficient autonomy from China to continue receiving special treatment from the world’s biggest economy has been delayed.

The United States’ State Department said Wednesday it would delay the report to Congress.

Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, said in a media briefing that the delay was to allow the report “to account for any additional actions that Beijing may be contemplating in the run-up” to China’s May 22 National People’s Congress (NPC) “that would further undermine the people of Hong Kong’s autonomy.”

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act was approved by the US Congress and signed by US President Donald Trump last November. It requires the State Department to certify at least annually that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to justify the favorable US trading terms that have helped it maintain its position as a leading global financial center.

The US had previously planned to release the report in late May.

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The approval of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act came after more than two million people rallied on the streets of Hong Kong to oppose an extradition law and to fight for democracy.

There were confrontations between protesters and police in many districts in Hong Kong during the second half of last year.

Due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in Hong Kong and mainland China, the number of protests significantly declined between February and April. As the pandemic situation improved, protests have re-emerged on the streets of Hong Kong in recent weeks.

Pro-democracy protesters were seen singing Glory to Hong Kong and holding banners in shopping malls, while police dispersed them, saying they had violated social-distancing rules. 

The “two sessions,” which refer to the annual plenary sessions of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and NPC, will start on May 21 and 22, respectively, and end in early June.

Beijing is worried that the US’s Hong Kong report will fuel social unrest in the special administrative region, as Hong Kong is known, as people may hold vigils to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests on June 4, and a rally for the first anniversary of the anti-extradition protest on June 9.

Joshua Wong Chi-fung, a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and the secretary-general of Demosistō, told Apple Daily that he had heard that the US may delay publishing the Hong Kong report due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Wong said he expected the US would take some action against Beijing as Pompeo had mentioned “additional actions” in his latest comments.

It is thought Trump plans to win the presidential election in November by suppressing and defaming China as the US economy has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, a columnist surnamed Chan wrote in an article published in Ta King Pao, a pro-Beijing newspaper, on Wednesday. 

Hong Kong has become a battlefield in the “new Cold War” started by the US, which will increase its support of the city’s opposition camp to take over the governing power in the territory, Chan said.

He added that the US would use the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act to intervene in Hong Kong’s affairs. Chan said Beijing would not back down as the US’ ultimate goal was to separate Hong Kong and Taiwan from the mainland. 

On April 28, eight US lawmakers wrote to request the Secretary of State’s upcoming assessment of Hong Kong’s autonomy include the recent arrests of 15 pan-democrats, including former legislator Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai.

Charles Peter Mok, a lawmaker representing the information technology functional constituency, said the letter showed that US lawmakers have been closely monitoring Hong Kong’s political situation and may impose sanctions against Beijing if necessary.

Horace Cheung, the vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said US lawmakers had intervened in Hong Kong’s judiciary system by mentioning the arrests of pan-democrats in their letter.

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