Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to End Diplomatic Privileges of Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices

(Washington, DC)—Representative Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the Chair and Cochair respectively of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) today announced the introduction of legislation that would revoke the diplomatic immunities and privileges granted to the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices (HKETOs) that operate in the United States as the official representative offices of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, but now appear to be mere appendages of China’s Communist government. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representative James P. McGovern (D-MA), joined the Chairs in introducing the bipartisan legislation. 

 “HKETOs were given diplomatic status as long as Hong Kong remained autonomous under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. But that framework has been obliterated by the Chinese Communist Party’s increasingly heavy-handed intervention in Hong Kong” said the Chairs. “This bill recognizes the sad reality that the civil and political freedoms once enjoyed by the Hong Kong people, and guaranteed by international law, are fast receding. HKETOs have become additional diplomatic outposts of the PRC and allowed to freely push a nothing-to-see-here narrative about Hong Kong. When there are hundreds of political prisoners in this former outpost of freedom, such a message is pure propaganda.”   

Background. The legislation would require the President, 30 days after enactment, to certify whether the three HKETOs operating in the United States (Washington, New York and San Francisco) merit the extension of privileges, exemptions, and immunities that they currently maintain. If the President certifies that the HKETOs do not merit diplomatic immunities, the HKETOs will terminate their operations within six months. If the President determines that the HKETOs do merit an extension of diplomatic privileges, Congress has the authority to offer a disapproval resolution which, if adopted, would force the administration to revoke the privileges enjoyed by the HKETOs. Also, as long as HKETOs operate in the United States, the legislation limits U.S. based contractors from assisting in the promotion of Hong Kong as either autonomous from the PRC or protecting human rights and the rule of law.  The legislative text is the same as bills introduced in the House and Senate in December, 2022.