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International relations

US ends defense exports to Hong Kong, diminishing special status

Pompeo says sending materiel to the territory is tantamount to sending it to mainland China

Sailors on the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson prepare to shift colors as the ship anchors in Hong Kong. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States began eliminating Hong Kong's special status under U.S. law on Monday, halting defense exports and restricting the territory's access to high-technology products as China prepares new Hong Kong security legislation.

The U.S. move comes as the top decision-making body of China's parliament deliberates a draft national security law for Hong Kong that pro-democracy activists in the city fear will be used to eliminate dissent and tighten Beijing's control.

"The Chinese Communist Party's decision to eviscerate Hong Kong's freedoms has forced the Trump administration to re-evaluate its policies toward the territory," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

He said the United States, effective Monday, was ending exports of defense equipment to Hong Kong and will also take steps to end the export of dual-use technologies to the territory. Dual-use technologies have both commercial and military uses.

Commerce Department regulations that gave preferential treatment to Hong Kong over China, including the availability of export license exceptions, were also suspended, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said after Pompeo's announcement.

Last year, the Department of State approved approximately $2.4 million worth of controlled defense articles and services to Hong Kong government authorities, of which approximately $1.4 million worth was shipped, according State Department records.

"The United States is forced to take this action to protect U.S. national security. We can no longer distinguish between the export of controlled items to Hong Kong or to mainland China," Pompeo said.

The announcements come at a time of intensified U.S. rhetoric against Beijing as President Donald Trump campaigns for re-election. Opinion polls have shown voters increasingly embittered toward China, especially over the coronavirus, which began there.

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