It's Time to Clarify US-Hong Kong Relations

Article excerpt

CONGRESS is considering legislation that seeks to establish the first-ever comprehensive US policy toward Hong Kong. "The United States-Hong Kong Policy Act," sponsored by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky and Rep. John Porter (R) of Illinois, recognizes that it is no longer enough to treat Hong Kong as a footnote to our China policy. Nor is it enough to defer excessively to the British on all Hong Kong issues.

To be sure, US policy must take account of Chinese and British sensitivities and interests. Accordingly, the bill closely adheres to the policies established by China and Britain themselves in a 1984 treaty known as the Joint Declaration. Because it deftly balances US interests, the bill has won bipartisan support.

These interests are substantial. Hong Kong serves as the primary conduit for US-China business relations and promotes the economic, political, and social liberalization of southern China. In its own right, Hong Kong has become a major business partner of the US. Hong Kong is the world's busiest port and America's 11th largest trade partner, with total trade exceeding $25 billion per year. The average Hong Kong resident consumes $1,100 worth of American goods annually. Hong Kong absorbs over $7 billion of US investment. Over 900 US companies operate there, including 250 Asian headquarters.

These business interests alone would be enough to justify the McConnell bill, but they do not alone motivate it. The human rights of 6 million Hong Kong residents are also at stake. In the Joint Declaration, Britain promised to return Hong Kong to China on June 30, 1997, provided that China permit Hong Kong to retain its liberal, capitalist system for at least 50 years. Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy, its legislature would be democratically elected, and international human rights norms would be followed.

Events since 1984, particularly the Tiananmen Square massacre, have shaken public confidence that China intends to honor the Joint Declaration's promises. No statistic reflects this "confidence crisis" more clearly than the emigration of more than 62,000 people in 1990 - over 1 percent of Hong Kong's population. Recognizing that full implementation of the Joint Declaration is in Hong Kong's best interests, the bill makes the Joint Declaration the cornerstone of US policy toward Hong Kong. It requires an annual report from the secretary of state to Congress on the extent to which the Joint Declaration's promises have been implemented. It requires that capitalist Hong Kong should be treated separately from communist China for purposes such as immigration and trade quotas (as permitted by the Joint Declaration); Hong Kong could receive most favored nation (MFN) trade status even if China is denied such treatment. …