Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Wednesday that the Trump administration no longer views Hong Kong as independent from China, a move that could cause it to lose special trading status with Washington as Donald Trump threatens to punish Beijing over coronavirus.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters she had talked to Donald Trump about the matter on Tuesday. Here's what she said the president told her: "It's hard to see how Hong Kong can remain a financial hub if China takes over."
A day later, his top diplomat told Congress Beijing has done just that.
"The State Department is required by the Hong Kong Policy Act to assess the autonomy of the territory from China. After careful study of developments over the reporting period, I certified to Congress today that 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 secretary of state added.
Hong Kong has been essentially an autonomous city-state since a 1997 pact that turned it over from British to Chinese rule, but it has had limited democracy and civil liberties. For months, however, protesters have revolted against a proposed Chinese law that would end many of those freedoms inside Hong Kong.
The Trump administration continues to say it stands with the residents of Hong Kong, but the White House has yet to announce any steps Mr Trump might order to punish Beijing for the proposed law – which has been condemned by the West.
Mr Trump also said Tuesday afternoon he soon will talk more about ways Washington might seek retribution against China for what he says was government action there to cover up the coronavirus outbreak in its Wuhan region and what he calls Beijing's decision to allow people to leave its soil and travel to the United States and across the globe, potentially while carrying the sometimes-deadly virus.
"We're doing something now. I think you'll find it very interesting, but I won't be talking about it today," Mr Trump said. "I'll be talking about it over the next couple of days."
Collectively, the Hong Kong decision and Mr Trump's coming announcement about a possible coronavirus punishment – as well as him saying China's recent actions apparently not living up to terms of a partial trade deal have made him sour on the pact – are an escalation of tensions between the two economic giants.
As Mr Trump and some of his top aides have referred to the disease as the "Chinese virus" and the "Wuhan virus," after the province it reportedly went public in, Americans' views of the Asian power have further dipped.
A recent Pew Research Center survey found 66 per cent of Americans now have a negative view of China, including 72 per cent of Republicans (and 62 per cent of Democrats).
Pew found "Republicans tending to be more negative than Democrats," adding in a summary of the poll: "Still, both partisan groups – for the second year in a row – have recorded their most negative assessments of China since the Center began asking this question in 2005."
And while Mr Trump has long called Chinese President Xi Jinping a "friend," Americans have another image of him.
"As ratings for China have declined, so too has confidence in ... Xi Jinping," according to Pew. "Roughly seven-in-ten Americans (71 per cent) say they do not have confidence in Xi to do the right thing when it comes to world affairs – a high since the center first asked the question."