March 31 (UPI) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed the United States' stance to Congress on Wednesday that Hong Kong was no longer autonomous from Mainland China and therefore does not warrant preferential treatment under U.S. law.
The determination is the second time the State Department has made the determination after then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed Congress in late May of last year that "no reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China."
The State Department is directed to yearly assess whether Hong Kong's autonomy from Beijing warrants special trade status under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act former President Donald Trump signed into law in November of 2019 in support of pro-democracy protesters in the former British colony.
Blinken said in a statement Wednesday that over the last year China has continued to "dismantle Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy" that it was promised for 50 years under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997.
The report sent to Congress that accompanied the certification accused China of having "dramatically undermined rights and freedoms in Hong Kong" when it unilaterally imposed a draconian national security law upon the city last summer in the wake of mass pro-democracy protests.
The law was met with widespread condemnation being viewed as the end of Hong Kong's autonomy from the mainland and an attack against Beijing critics as it criminalized acts of secession, sedition, subversion, terrorism and working with foreign agencies to undermine the national security of China with hefty sentences.
The State Department said at least 99 opposition politicians, activists and protesters have been arrested under national security law charges, including 55 people arrested in January for organizing or running in pan-democratic primary election last July.
"The NSL grants the [Hong Kong Police Force] broad authorities to conduct wiretaps or electronic surveillance without warrants in national security-related cases," the report states. "The NSL also empowers police to conduct searches without a warrant, including of electronic devices."
Some of those who have been arrested include those charged with waving pro-Hong Kong independence banners and changing such slogans.
Blinken said Wednesday that because of this Hong Kong no longer warranted the differential trade treatment it had enjoyed since 1997.
"We will continue to call on the PRC to abide by its international obligations and commitments; to cease its dismantlement of Hong Kong's democratic institutions, autonomy and rule of law; to release immediately and drop all charges against individuals unjustly detained in Hong Kong and to respect human rights of all individuals in Hong Kong," he said.
The move comes days after China approved an overhaul of Hong Kong's electoral system reducing the number of elected officials and increasing the number of those decided by China-backed groups.
The law also screens all candidates for elections to ensure only so-called patriots can hold office.
"These changes to Hong Kong's electoral system defy the will of the people in Hong Kong, deny Hong Kongers a voice in their own government," he said. "The changes, which will establish a committee to vet candidates for office based solely on their loyalty to Beijing and diminish the proportion of directly elected members of the Legislative Council, will severely curtail meaningful pluralism and representative government in Hong Kong."
In the last year, the U.S. government has sanctioned 35 Hong Kong and People's Republic of China officials in four separate groups in connection to the adoption and implementation of the national security law.