Noting the legislation called for the termination of privileges held by Hong Kong’s economic and trade offices and their closure, it said the move was a clear intervention in the city and China’s internal affairs.
“We advise the United States to clearly understand the situation, correct its position, and avoid self-inflicted setbacks,” it said, warning China would “resolutely” defend its rights.
“Do not start any trouble, do not cross the line, use solid action to return to the correct path of promoting mutual trust and cooperation between China and the United States, and give up on oppressing China, as well as oppressing China through Hong Kong.”
The proposed law was among several pieces of legislation designed to target China cleared by the US committee on Wednesday.
If the bill became law, the White House would have to “remove the extension of certain privileges, exemptions and immunities” given to Hong Kong’s representative offices if it decided the city no longer had a high degree of autonomy.
The legislation, sponsored by Republican Chris Smith, is expected to advance to the full House of Representatives for a vote. A Senate version of the bill was approved by its foreign relations committee in July, but is still awaiting a vote on the floor.
The Hong Kong government also condemned the proposed legislation.
“That act is factually wrong,” the government said. “It aims to achieve political objectives by smearing and attacking the work of the Hong Kong economic and trade offices in the US on promoting mutually beneficial economic and trade relations and cultural exchanges between Hong Kong and the US.
“The government strongly condemned such attempts to damage trade relations owing to individual political interests, and sternly urged the US not to violate again the basic norms governing international relations and to stop political smears and attacks on Hong Kong and interfering in Hong Kong matters.”
If both chambers pass the bill and US President Joe Biden signs it, he will be required to explain to Congress why the offices should retain or lose their diplomatic privileges, which were granted under the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.
The policy act came into force before Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997 and was intended to preserve US trade and keep privileges the city enjoyed in place after the handover.
The city’s three US offices – in Washington, New York and San Francisco – would be required to close within 180 days if the president opted for decertification.
Both versions of the bill include a “disapproval resolution” clause that would allow Congress to override the president’s assessment and force the offices to close.
Hong Kong authorities said the offices had close contact with the US government, businesses, think tanks and various sectors to boost ties in areas such as trade, investment, arts and culture. Officials said the offices contributed to the strengthening of cooperation between the city and the US.
The government noted the US had enjoyed a trade surplus of US$284.9 billion with Hong Kong over the past 10 years, the largest among its global trading partners, and more than 1,200 American companies had set up businesses in the city.
“If the US insists on undermining the mutually beneficial relations between Hong Kong and the US through the so-called Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office Certification Act, it will ultimately harm the interests of the US and its companies,” it said.
It added the three offices would continue to promote Hong Kong’s strengths, combat inaccurate reports and clarify misconceptions to help foster good economic relations and cooperation.
In a speech at an International Chamber of International Commerce event on Thursday evening, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu hit out at speculation in the Western media questioning Hong Kong’s continued success as a financial centre.
“Let me just set the record straight here. Hong Kong is a major international financial centre. No doubt about it. This is not just a grand statement by John Lee, the chief executive,” he said.
“This was reaffirmed in the International Monetary Fund’s report this year, which commends Hong Kong’s robust institutional frameworks, substantial capital and liquidity buffers, high-quality regulatory regime, and a well-functioning linked exchange rate system.”
Lau Siu-kai, a consultant to semi-official Beijing think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the bill was the product of “unfriendly actions” by anti-China politicians, not the US government.
“In the context of a heated anti-China atmosphere on the eve of the US presidential and congressional elections, it is predicted that the American president will be forced to sign it into law,” he added.
But Lau said that there would be little damage done if the offices had to close because other government bodies would be able to take over their work. Diplomatic affairs could be handled by China’s embassies and consulates, he added.