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Photo: Nicholas Kamm/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Wednesday that he has certified to Congress that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China and does not warrant special treatment under U.S. law.

Why it matters: Revoking Hong Kong's special status would hasten its economic and financial decline, already set in motion by China's growing political grip on the city. The preferential status that the U.S. has long granted Hong Kong has made the city a top U.S. trading partner.

The big picture: The Chinese Communist Party last week unveiled a sweeping new security law that will criminalize sedition, foreign influence and secession in Hong Kong. The move and the subsequent reaction from the U.S. have put the once semi-autonomous city's status as one of Asia's largest financial hubs at risk.

  • The U.S. and Hong Kong do $67 billion in bilateral trade each year.
  • More than 1,300 U.S. companies have operations in Hong Kong, and around 80,000 U.S. citizens currently reside in the city.

The backstory: Hong Kong has operated under its own legal system since the U.K. returned the colony to China in 1997. People and businesses there have lived and operated far more freely than would be possible in mainland China. 

  • An extradition bill that threatened to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy sparked massive protests last year. The new measures from Beijing could go much further, and activists fear the crackdown will render Hong Kong just another Chinese province.

What to watch: White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that if Pompeo is unable to certify Hong Kong's autonomy, the U.S. will impose sanctions on China and Hong Kong.

What he's saying:

"The State Department is required by the Hong Kong Policy Act to assess the autonomy of the territory from China. After careful study of developments over the reporting period, I certified to Congress today that Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997. No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground.
Hong Kong and its dynamic, enterprising, and free people have flourished for decades as a bastion of liberty, and this decision gives me no pleasure. But sound policy making requires a recognition of reality. While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself.
The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong as they struggle against the CCP’s increasing denial of the autonomy that they were promised."
— Mike Pompeo

Go deeper: Hong Kong's economic future hangs in the balance

This story is breaking news. Please check back for updates

Go deeper

Aug 26, 2020 - World

U.S. presses Israel to cool ties with China over support for Iran

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Aug. 24. Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting in Jerusalem on Monday to further cool relations with China and limit Chinese investments in Israel over the new strategic partnership agreement China signed with Iran, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

Why it matters: The Trump administration has been lobbying Israel for two years to scale back its relations with China. Until now, those efforts have had very little success.

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Axios Re:Cap goes deeper into the speech, the atmosphere and what it all tells us about the incoming administration, with Axios political reporters Hans Nichols and Alexi McCammond.

Biden embarks on a consequential presidency

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Donald Trump tried everything to delegitimize the rival who vanquished him. In reality, he's set Joe Biden on course to be a far more consequential U.S. president than he might otherwise have become.

The big picture: President Biden now confronts not just a pandemic, but massive political divisions and an assault on truth — and the aftermath of the assault on the Capitol two weeks ago that threatened democracy itself.