China’s implementation of new national security laws in Hong Kong has created a “climate of coercion” that threatens Hong Kong’s freedom and its status as an international business center, the top U.S. diplomat in the city said.
In a rarely harsh interview with Reuters this week, U.S. Consul General Hanscom Smith said it was “alarming” that the impact of Beijing’s crackdown on foreign powers had “denigrated” routine diplomatic activities, including meetings with local activists. The impact of Beijing’s crackdown on foreign powers “discredits” routine diplomatic activities, including meetings with local activists, and “casts a shadow over the city.
The comments by Schmuck, who imposed national security laws on Hong Kong a year ago by the Chinese National People’s Congress, underscore the growing concern of many officials in the Biden administration about the serious deterioration of freedom in Hong Kong.
Article 29 of the national security law imposed by China in Hong Kong provides for severe penalties for conspiring with “foreign countries or foreign institutions, organizations or personnel,” with the ultimate penalty being life in prison.
People don’t know where the red line is, and that creates an atmosphere that is not only bad for fundamental freedoms, but bad for business,” Smucker told Reuters.
“You can’t have it both ways,” he added. “You can’t claim this is a global hub and at the same time move to use this propaganda language to criticize foreigners.”
Smucker is a career U.S. diplomat with long experience dealing with China and the surrounding region, having served in Shanghai, Beijing and Taiwan before arriving in Hong Kong in July 2019. He was interviewed by Reuters on Wednesday (June 9) at the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong.
In a response to Reuters, Hong Kong’s Security Bureau said that “normal interactions and activities” are protected and accused foreign forces of interfering in the 2019 Hong Kong protest wave.
Regina Ip, a government adviser and former security chief, told Reuters that only people who hate China worry about breaking the law. “There has to be criminal intent, not just casual chatter,” she said.
The Reuters report said the comments by Smokey came as other envoys, businesspeople and activists in Hong Kong, China’s most cosmopolitan city, expressed concern about the chilling effect the law would have on their relationship dealings.
Private investigators say many law firms, hedge funds and other businesses have requested anti-bugging checks on their offices and communications systems for security reasons, while diplomats describe meeting quietly with opposition figures, academics and churchmen.
Fourteen Asian and Western diplomats told Reuters that they were alarmed by attempts by Hong Kong prosecutors to treat contacts between local politicians and diplomatic envoys as a potential threat to national security.
In April, a judge cited emails from the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong to former pro-democracy lawmaker Jeremy Tam as a reason to deny bail. Tam was charged with violating national security laws.
Smoak said, “It’s shocking that people would treat a routine interaction with a representative of a foreign government as somehow evil.” He said the consulate did not want to put anyone in an “awkward situation.