US has to exercise caution in using newly minted Hong Kong law

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/11/28 21:23:40

Photo: GT

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed the so-called Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, another show of US' nasty long-arm jurisdiction and hegemony. 

China and the US are close to a phase one trade deal with broad consensus having been reached. The trade talks could be a driving factor for the US Congress to promote approval of the act. They see the legislation as a card to further suppress China, intending to make the country bow to their wishes.  In this context, both US Congress and the White House are pleased to see the act become a pernicious law against China, although the two sides would still have divergences on details and to what extent they should carry it out. 

Be it human rights or democracy, Trump is not interested in Hong Kong. However as both chambers of US Congress have passed the bill by near unanimous margins, by signing on the act, Trump is not likely to peeve any anti-China politician on both sides. Given the uncertainties Trump is facing because of the impeachment inquiry, it is understandable that he will woo, rather than irritate right-wing anti-China Republican senators like Marco Rubio to defend him during the impeachment. Therefore, signing the bill can bring no harm to Trump. 

However, in a statement on Wednesday, Trump said he "signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China and the people of Hong Kong," which suggested that he won't let his hands be tied by the Congress in dealing with China. 

It is not the first time a US president has given leeway, as some of Congress' legislations were somewhat ultra vires. Trump is no exception. He has suggested that he will exercise discretion in deciding whether and to what extent the bills' provisions are implemented.

This reflected a phenomenon in US domestic political struggle — with the Congress and the White House mutually making compromises and concessions. It cannot be ruled out that the Congress and the president play a double act in the future, which is also a common practice of Washington.  The Congress passes an egregious law and then administrative departments play the card in talks and consultations to coerce the other parties to give in. 

It is a commonly seen trick of Washington when it is dealing with foreign affairs and China. For instance, during former president Bill Clinton's tenure, the US linked so-called human rights affairs with China's most-favored-nation-treatment. Going back further, the US enacted the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979 to keep meddling in China's internal affairs. For years, Washington has mastered the trick to reap maximum gains. 

It is bound to affect China-US relations as the US Congress uses a domestic law to intervene in China's internal affairs, sanctioning Hong Kong and even threatening to revoke its special customs status. This will be a setback for Hong Kong as an international financial hub and affect foreign investment in the city, which also hurts US companies. 

The act will have a far-reaching and harmful impact. But how effective the card is for Washington depends on various factors. If the unrest in Hong Kong calms down in a short time, US evaluation of "the government of Hong Kong's autonomous decision-making" or "application of sanctions" will lose its "legitimacy" and rationality. If China-US tensions prevail, the Hong Kong card will be repeatedly used. If the China-US relations can go back to normal, the White House will at least think twice before using the card, as it has to weigh the costs and benefits. Otherwise, relations between the two countries may tank and affect the trade consultations. 

To sum up, Trump has signed another evil law that intervenes in China's domestic affairs and violates the country's sovereignty by using Hong Kong as a stick. However, in deciding how to use the stick and whether it will take the US where it wishes, Washington has to think carefully because the move would probably backfire. 

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Xu Hailin based on an interview with Xin Qiang, deputy director of the Center for US Studies at Fudan University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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