The US Consul General has warned that Beijing's desire to "influence and control political conversations and events" in Hong Kong could negatively impact the SAR's economy and the role of the international business community here.
In a speech delivered to an HKUST alumni association meeting on Thursday, Tong said he is often told by people that factors like political autonomy and freedom of expression do not really matter to the business community.
"I’m actually not so sure about that. I’m not confident that politics can be so neatly divorced from economics in how this city runs," the top US envoy was quoted as saying in the speech, the text of which was released by the consulate on Friday.
Tong said politics and business converge at many points, including visa policy.
"If foreigners’ residency status in Hong Kong were to become broadly subject to political considerations, as is often the case in the mainland, it would certainly impact the business environment here," he said.
The envoy said the special status enjoyed by the SAR under the Hong Kong Policy Act has been a big success story over the past two decades, but some concerns are being flagged by observers in Washington after recent events.
The envoy said last year was particularly bad, as Hong Kong witnessed a number of unfortunate 'firsts'.
Among them, "Hong Kong’s first banning of a political party; the first foreign journalist ejected from the city; and the first time Hong Kong has disqualified a large number of political candidates for their political views".
"In all of these cases and trends, the Mainland Central Government appears to have been intimately involved in the Hong Kong Government's decision-making," he said.
Tong said Hong Kong has to maintain its status in areas of government regulation and procurement, and financial market supervision. "I know that portfolio investors watch closely to see whether Red Chip companies are allowed to cut any corners in their financial reports supporting their Hong Kong market listings," he said.
Tong also pointed out the freedom to access the internet as a key difference between Hong Kong and the mainland, saying cyber space freedom is also essential to the SAR's ambition to grow as an IT hub.
He said Hong Kong played a key role in China's development because of its rules-based approach to commerce and regulation and its fiercely independent judiciary.
"Looking toward the future, I hope and believe that Hong Kong can once again point the way, for China and for the Indo-Pacific region," the diplomat said.