Oppose special privileges for the Hong Kong government

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Why is the U.S. still providing Hong Kong with special diplomatic status

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What are the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices (ETOs)?

Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices (HKETOs) in the U.S. were given special privileges and immunities after the handover of Hong Kong by the British to China in 1997 in order to “broaden, deepen and enrich the already strong economic, trade, investment and cultural ties between Hong Kong and the U.S.” The HKETOs serve no consular functions, despite receiving diplomatic privileges and immunities. There are currently three HKETOs in the U.S., in Washington DC, New York City, and San Francisco.

What privileges are afforded to employees of the HKETOs?

Employees of the U.S.-based HKETOs have enjoyed special privileges and immunities under U.S. law since June 30, 1997.  They enjoy a form of diplomatic immunity, immunity from search and seizure (including at the airport), and exemptions from customs and import taxes, as well as property taxes. These, and other privileges are extended to family members of HKETO employees and officers under the IOIA.

Why are the special rights granted to HKETOs in the U.S. legally questionable?

The U.S. government decertified Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law on May 27, 2020 after the People’s Republic of China (PRC) announced its intent to impose the National Security Law on the people of Hong Kong. The decision meant that the government deemed that Hong Kong was no longer sufficiently autonomous as to merit separate treatment from the PRC under U.S. law and triggered a series of follow-on actions to decertify its special status. Yet the decertification did not remove the special status of the HKETOs. 

How do the HKETOs’ continued presence in the United States threaten U.S. interests?

In the past several years, the HKETOs have primarily acted as bases for preparing pro-Beijing propaganda targeted at Americans. They also partner with local organizations in the U.S. on cultural events, where they promote the authoritarian city to guests–usually without revealing their government-controlled status. 

Since 2023, the Hong Kong government has also started targeting Hong Kong dissidents in the United States by offering bounties. The HKETOs are well-situated to monitor and report back on these and other activists’ work, putting the activists’ and their families’ safety at risk. 

What can be done to address the HKETOs?

Given that Hong Kong’s special status was decertified, the President could, at any time, revoke the HKETOs’ special status by declaring that they are  no longer operating autonomously from the PRC. But with two successive presidents now failing to act to shut the HKETOs, efforts have turned to Congress to pass a law compelling the President to review the matter.

Learn more about this bill on Congress.gov