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Ex-envoy Kurt Tong says 'threshold should be high' for US lawmakers to change Hong Kong's special status

Robert Delaney

Hong Kong's recently departed US consul general is trying to keep the peace in his former base.

Speaking in an interview in Washington, Tong warned the US government against drawing "red lines" that would trigger changes to the separate status Hong Kong enjoys in trade, economic policy and other areas.

The Hong Kong Policy Act has given the city special status since 1992, but also allows the US president to revoke it should reviews determine that Hong Kong's autonomy has been eroded.

"I always hesitate to associate any particular red lines or recommending any particular red lines for the US government or for people's general understanding of what the triggers might be that would lead the US to change the Hong Kong Policy Act either in whole or in part," Tong said.

"It's better to have judgment calls," he said, adding that the act is "a voluntary framework" that Washington can use fully or partially "in terms of the different elements of US law that treats Hong Kong separately from the rest of China."

"So I don't think there should be a red line," Tong said, "but I do think the threshold should be high for the US to make any changes" under the act.

US lawmakers including Senators Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Ben Cardin, a Democrat, introduced legislation in June requiring the US secretary of state to issue an annual certification of Hong Kong's autonomy from mainland China for the city to continue enjoying its special status.

Turning to the escalating demonstrations in Hong Kong, sparked by its government's attempt to enact a law that would allow extraditions to the mainland, Tong said of the unrest: "It should stop."

He joins others in calling for protesters to let the dust in Hong Kong settle while at the same time supporting the overall cause: deep concern about Beijing's approach to handling the city's affairs.

"I continue to think that the powerful messages of the protest movement in Hong Kong were most effective ... when it's peaceful," Tong said. "It shows strong support from the Hong Kong general public, not a small group of people who have become interested in exploring the boundaries of legal activity or crossing the boundaries of legal activity in expressing their political views."

Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, is among the lawmakers supporting legislation that would require the US State Department to certify Hong Kong's autonomy on an annual basis. Photo: AP alt=Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, is among the lawmakers supporting legislation that would require the US State Department to certify Hong Kong's autonomy on an annual basis. Photo: AP

On Thursday, a group comprising four Christian organisations, including the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, sang hymns and carried electronic candles as it marched through Hong Kong's busy shopping district of Central and past the bars of Lan Kwai Fong to rally at the Court of Final Appeal.

Legislators including NeoDemocrat lawmaker Gary Fan Kwok-wai have also called on the anti-extradition movement's more radical protesters to rethink their strategy or risk playing into Beijing's hands.

"The protesters' attempts to besiege police stations or confront officers will definitely weaken the movement and even fall into the government's trap," Fan said on Wednesday.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association issued a statement on Wednesday condemning protesters who blocked and destroyed a news vehicle from the city's largest television broadcaster.

Tong echoed the sentiment that some demonstrators' actions have been counterproductive.

"The protesters have gotten good at it, at innovative, forceful crossing-the-boundary-of-legality protests," he said. "But being good at it is not the same thing as it being a good idea."

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.