US warns against American business operations in Hong Kong

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The U.S. Department of State. (AP photo)

The US government has warned American businesses against engaging in operations in Hong Kong as tensions between China and the United States grow. 

The Department of State, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Homeland Security issued the warning on Friday, claiming new laws in Hong Kong such as the National Security Law (NSL) could affect American companies.  

“These risks fall into four categories: risks for businesses following the imposition of the NSL; data privacy risks; risks regarding transparency and access to critical business information; and risks for businesses with exposure to sanctioned Hong Kong or PRC entities or individuals,” the departments said in their advisory. 

The advisory mentioned the arrest of one American citizen and the search and closing of Apply Daily newspaper by the city government as examples of how far Hong Kong’s new measures can affect businesses.

“The NSL introduced a heightened risk of PRC (the People's Republic of China) and Hong Kong authorities using expanded legal authorities to collect data from businesses and individuals in Hong Kong for actions that may violate ‘national security,’” according to the advisory.

The US has imposed sanctions in response to Hong Kong’s new laws and said American companies “may face heightened risk and uncertainty in connection with sanctions compliance efforts.”

Earlier in the week, anticipating the upcoming US advisory, China warned Washington against interfering with the internal affairs in Hong Kong. 

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the city’s laws protect foreign companies and the advisory was "typical political manipulation and double standards.”

Last month, Hong Kong police arrested five executives of the Apple Daily and Next Digital — the paper’s parent group — for colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security during the raid.

Police said more than 30 articles published by the news media since 2019 calling for foreign sanctions against China and Hong Kong leaders violated the national security law.

The founder of Apple Daily, tycoon Jimmy Lai, was remanded in custody for taking part in illegal assemblies while facing trial for endangering national security. The rest were freed on bail and were not charged. Some 18 million Hong Kong dollars (2.3 million US dollars) in assets related to the newspaper were also frozen.

US President Joe Biden defended the advisory on Thursday when asked about it at a press conference.

"Let me talk about the business advisory. The situation in Hong Kong is deteriorating. And the Chinese government is not keeping its commitment that it made how it would deal with — with Hong Kong,” Biden said.

“And so it is more of an advisory as to what may happen in — on Hong Kong. It's as simple as that and as complicated as that,” he added.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday said Chinese and Hong Kong officials have “systematically undermined Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, delayed elections, disqualified elected lawmakers from office, and forced officials to take loyalty oaths to keep their jobs.”

“We will continue to stand up for the rights and freedoms guaranteed to people in Hong Kong by the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law,” he added.

In June 2019, unprecedented anti-government protests began in Hong Kong over a proposed extradition bill. It was shelved under pressure from demonstrations later on, but the turbulent protest movement continued into the next several months and became more violent, endangering the lives and property of citizens.

The protesters have been demanding Hong Kong’s full secession since then. Beijing says the United States and Britain have been fanning the flames of unrest in the semi-autonomous hub by supporting the separatist protesters.

Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

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