Skyline buildings in Hong Kong, May 2020
Tyrone Siu / Reuters

Those who drafted the 1992 Hong Kong Policy Act had a simple goal: to bolster Hong Kong’s autonomy as it changed hands from the United Kingdom to China. To this end, Congress authorized Washington to treat Hong Kong as an entity separate from mainland China in several policy areas. But Congress also mandated that this differential treatment should last only as long as the United States deemed Hong Kong sufficiently autonomous to begin with—setting an unintentional but pernicious trap for Washington policymakers ever since. 

Last December, I warned in Foreign Affairs that the trap was at risk of snapping

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