The Trump administration said it could no longer certify Hong Kong's political autonomy from China, a move that could trigger sanctions and have far-reaching consequences on the former British colony's special trading status with the U.S.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the decision Wednesday, a week after the government in Beijing declared its intention to pass a national security law curtailing the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong citizens.
"Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997," Mr. Pompeo said in a statement. "No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground."
The move comes as tensions between the world's two largest economies continue to escalate, fueled by accusations from President Donald Trump that China was slow to disclose the peril of the novel coronavirus. Mr. Trump has threatened consequences for Beijing over its handling of the pandemic and more recently its steps to assert more control over Hong Kong.
A finding on Hong Kong's autonomy was compelled by last year's Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. The law signed by Mr. Trump requires such a certification each year.
Mr. Pompeo's decision opens the door for a range of options, from visa restrictions and asset freezes for top officials to possibly imposing tariffs on goods coming from the former colony.
"The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong as they struggle against the CCP's increasing denial of the autonomy that they were promised," Mr. Pompeo said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.