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Some Hong Kong democrats want Trump to hammer city's economy

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"Our only salvation is for President Donald Trump to impose sanctions," said Jimmy Lai, a Hong Kong media tycoon and prominent pro-democracy activist.

[HONG KONG] Hong Kong's most prominent pro-democracy advocates called on President Donald Trump to hit China hard, even to the point of revoking the city's special trading status, over Beijing's plan to impose sweeping national security legislation on the financial hub.

The pressure on the US to act swiftly and forcefully against China over its actions in Hong Kong follow Secretary of State Michael Pompeo's announcement Wednesday that the US believes Hong Kong is no longer sufficiently autonomous from the mainland under American law.

"Our only salvation is for President Donald Trump to impose sanctions," said Jimmy Lai, a Hong Kong media tycoon and prominent pro-democracy activist, who said the most impactful initial move would be to freeze the bank accounts of top Chinese officials. "We are very hopeful that by the weekend he will impose very draconian sanctions on China," Mr Lai told Bloomberg Television.

Mr Pompeo's declaration that Hong Kong's autonomy had been compromised is likely to escalate simmering US-China tensions, as the the word's two biggest economies trade blows over issues ranging from trade to media freedoms to responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic. And it could deal a significant hit to the economy of Hong Kong, which is already reeling after months of anti-government protests and Covid-19: The city's independent judiciary and other freedoms underpin its role as an international finance hub.

"Pompeo is a absolutely right about Hong Kong having lost its high degree of autonomy," said Fernando Cheung, a pro-democracy lawmaker. "We would like the US to sanction public officials who have been involved in undermining 'one country, two systems' in Hong Kong and discontinue all high technology exports to Hong Kong."

Joshua Wong, one of the city's most well-known democracy activists, called Thursday for the US to implement a range of measures up to and including revoking the trade status. The so-called nuclear option of fully revoking the city's special trading status under US law would expose Hong Kong to the same tariffs facing China, dealing a powerful economic blow.

"I urge the Beijing government to stop before it's too late, stop implementing and passing the national security law in Hong Kong," he said at a news conference.

Hong Kong's pro-democracy forces differ on precisely what they want the US to do over the new security legislation, which has drawn condemnation from a range of foreign governments, bar associations, human rights groups and business chambers. But it's clear many of them feel the US is their only hope in a lopsided battle for democracy against China, and they see this moment as one of the last chances to pressure Beijing to moderate the controversial laws.

While moderate Hong Kong democrats are hoping for less strident measures, including targeted sanctions and export curbs on sensitive dual-use technology, more radical elements in the pro-democracy movement want Washington to take the harsher approach of treating Hong Kong the same as the mainland in some aspects.

"Although it's a double edged sword, I think it is a necessary and proportional step to counter the damage done" by China to Hong Kong, Mr Cheung said.

The calls for sanctions come a day after a heavy police presence in central Hong Kong dissuaded mass protests around the city's Legislative Council building, where politicians were debating a separate bill that would criminalise insulting China's national anthem.

At the same time, desperate protesters were openly calling for independence - a cry that was avoided during the months-long protests last year. Hong Kong's sovereignty is a red line for Beijing, which has said it needs the national security laws in part to stem any secession movements.

"There are differences between the moderates and the radicals," said Joseph Cheng, a retired political science professor who is a veteran pro-democracy campaigner and organiser. "The former engage in non-violent political struggle and desire milder sanctions as a warning. The latter engage in violent struggles and want serious sanctions to cause damage. The latter is more vocal."

Despite their differences, democrats are unified in wanting real action from the Trump administration instead of just statements of condemnation, he said.

"Sanctions against the Chinese and Hong Kong officials concerned are seen as a minimum," Mr Cheng said. "Temporary suspension of the special trading status is what many of them hope for."

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