Hong Kong has long enjoyed freedoms not seen elsewhere in China. Recently, however, the Chinese Government introduced a new National Security Law to consolidate its control over Hong Kong. Many see this law as an indicator that Hong Kong’s unique liberties will soon come to an end. In response, US President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act. This action ends special trading status for Hong Kong, treating it the same as the rest of China, while also sanctioning those doing business with China. While the Act has bipartisan support in the US, the Hong Kong public has a more nuanced and divided view.
In our latest poll of Hong Kong residents this month, we found that the plurality of Hong Kong respondents (42%) support Trump’s Autonomy Act and corresponding executive order, with roughly a quarter (26%) disagreeing. Among those who voted for the pro-Beijing DAB in 2016, however, this policy is controversial: 41% agree with Trump’s actions, while 45% disagree.
Although the executive order initially disadvantages Hong Kong for trading purposes compared to the status it enjoyed previously, many residents appear to believe the decision is justifiable given the pressure that it will put on the Chinese Government. The public is likely hoping that Trump’s actions will pressure China to respect the political freedoms of Hong Kong and the ‘One Country Two Systems’ arrangement.
At the same time, nearly half (46%) believes that the US should still treat them differently from the rest of China, while a strong minority (31%) disagrees. In this light, Hong Kong residents may interpret this second question as understanding that the executive order is intended to be supportive of Hong Kong specifically even if it designates Hong Kong as equivalent to the rest of China. The public may therefore hope for different treatment as part of a future with their freedoms preserved.
This nuance is supported by our findings on Hong Kong views of US economic sanctions generally. While more than a third (38%) of respondents believe that the US sanctions would have a significant negative effect on their lives, a plurality (43%) also believe that the US is still right to impose sanctions.
A split in public opinion is nevertheless evident in questions about the future of Hong Kong’s relations with the US. A plurality (38%) of respondents believe that the US is more of a threat than an ally to Hong Kong, while 29% say the opposite and 21% say it is neither.
Some may believe that Donald Trump’s actions and rhetoric towards China will negatively affect them even if they may, in part, agree with it. Indeed, Hong Kong residents are also divided on whether stronger relations with the US vs China would be more beneficial over the long term. A slight plurality (37%) support closer relations with China, while 30% support closer relations with the US.
As in Taiwan, where there is a strong preference for closer relations with the United States over China, this result may simply reflect geopolitical and economic reality. Hong Kong, after all, is under the broader control of the CCP and also borders mainland China. Outright closer relations with the United States may put the city-state in a precarious position relative to its mainland neighbor. Taiwan, a fully independent island nation which the United States provides with military support, may still have the luxury of choice.