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Do No Harm in Hong Kong

What the United States Can—and Can’t—Do to Help Preserve the City’s Autonomy

A detained protester in Hong Kong, December 2019 Tyrone Siu / Reuters

In the months after large-scale protests first broke out in Hong Kong last June, U.S. policy circles remained relatively quiet. Yet as demonstrations turned violent and rumors of a Beijing-directed crackdown spread, concern in Washington grew. Last week, President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which arrived at his desk with veto-proof backing from both houses of Congress. The legislation gives the U.S. government a stronger mandate to adjust its legal stance toward Hong Kong, as well as offering renewed sanctions authorities and a clearer expression of where the United States stands on the city’s future.

Yet the biggest questions for U.S. policy still lie ahead. At issue today in Hong Kong is not simply when and how the protests end. More consequential is whether Hong Kong’s uniquely autonomous status within China, as defined by the “one country, two systems”

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