BEIJING: Hong Kong will suspend an agreement on mutual legal assistance with the United States, China's foreign ministry said on Thursday (Aug 20), in a tit-for-tat response to Washington ending some agreements with Hong Kong.
The US State Department notified Hong Kong on Wednesday that Washington had suspended or terminated three bilateral agreements with the semi-autonomous city following China's imposition of a sweeping national security law.
"China urges the US to immediately correct its mistakes," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a news briefing on Thursday as he announced the suspension of the agreement on legal assistance.
The agreement, signed in 1997 before Britain returned Hong Kong to China, specified that the United States and Hong Kong governments would help each other in criminal matters such as transferring people in custody or searching and confiscating proceeds of crime.
The US State Department said earlier the three agreements the United States ended covered "the surrender of fugitive offenders, the transfer of sentenced persons, and reciprocal tax exemptions on income derived from the international operation of ships".
A Hong Kong government spokesperson said on Thursday that abandoning the agreements created further "troubles in the China-US relationship, using Hong Kong as a pawn", and "should be condemned by the international community".
He said the decision reflects a "disrespect for bilateralism and multilateralism" under the administration of US President Donald Trump.
Hong Kong authorities said the agreements were negotiated "in good faith to benefit the peoples and businesses of both sides".
The spokesperson added that ending the tax exemptions would increase the operating costs of shipping companies.
"It will hamper the development of the shipping sector between Hong Kong and the US, and is in nobody's interest," he said.
The US decision followed Trump's order last month to end Hong Kong’s special status under US law to punish China for what he called “oppressive actions” against the former British colony.
Trump signed an executive order that he said would end the preferential economic treatment for the city following the imposition of the new security law.
The national security law punishes anything China considers secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. It has drawn criticism from Western countries that worry the law will end the freedoms promised when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule.
Beijing and the Hong Kong government have defended the law as necessary to restore order and preserve prosperity after months of at times violent anti-government protests last year.
Hong Kong has become another contentious issue between China and the United States, whose relations were already strained by differences over trade, China's claims in the South China Sea and its treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority.
Earlier this month Washington imposed sanctions on Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam along with 10 other senior officials in the city.
It also required goods imported from Hong Kong to be marked as "made in China", following a move to end the former British colony's special status under US law.