China’s foreign ministry accused the top US official in Hong Kong of discrediting the city’s business reputation after he warned of diminishing confidence in its rule of law, the latest sign of frayed relations over the troubled Asian financial hub.
Gregory May, who took over as US consul general in September, warned that companies in Hong Kong face heightened risks — including to their staff, finances and legal compliance — after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in 2020. He also blamed the rules for worsening a brain drain in the city throughout the Covid pandemic.
“Hong Kong’s position as a free global financial center will suffer as a result of this outflow,” he said Wednesday in a virtual event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.
His comments mark an escalation in fraught US-China relations, in which Hong Kong has become a flash point over diminishing freedoms and the imprisonment of pro-democracy activists. Last month, the Standing Committee of China’s legislature decided Hong Kong’s leader and an oversight committee should approve the use of an overseas lawyer in national security cases — a development May warned could further undermine judicial independence in the city.
He estimates that about 15,000 US citizens — or 20% of Americans in the city in 2019 — have left Hong Kong in the last two years. Strict Covid-19 restrictions, including travel bans and mandatory hotel quarantines, led many foreign businesses to relocate staff to other regional hubs such as Singapore and Seoul during that period.