The US has terminated access to two very important US federal websites for Hong Kong internet users, reported FT.
The Websites, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the US Census Bureau, provide critical economic data for investors, is fueling continued tensions between Washington and Beijing over the semi-autonomous territory.
FT spoke with several US government agencies about the blocked websites for Kong Kong residents but received very little information about the ongoing situation.
A spokesperson at the Department of Labor, which includes the Bureau of Labor Statistics, declined to comment on the “security procedures” but said, “agencies began implementing geoblocks that included Hong Kong in January 2018.”
“That would mean the measures started more than two years before the US punished the Asian financial center in response to Beijing’s introduction in June of a tough security law for Hong Kong. The US maintained that the security law meant Hong Kong was no longer sufficiently autonomous from mainland China,” FT said.
Considering Hong Kong is one of the world’s most important financial hubs, the blocking of both websites is not helpful for analyst and investors working in the area, though many are still able to access the US government data via a virtual private network, Bloomberg, Eikon, or FactSet terminal.
Cliff Tan, a Hong Kong-based analyst and former head of East Asian global markets research at Japanese bank Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, told FT that access to both websites have been blocked for the last couple of months.
“Non-farm payroll data is arguably the most important economic statistic in the world,” Tan said.
He said his VPN works just fine to access the websites.
“I have a VPN but didn’t ever think I would need it in Hong Kong,” he said.
A US government source, with direct knowledge about the situation, said more US federal government websites are expected to be blocked as Washington no longer recognizes Hong Kong as autonomous from mainland China.
US Cyber Command told FT it began geoblocking federal websites in 2017 to protect military websites and ensure “network availability” worldwide. The cyber agency wasn’t able to comment on why certain civilian websites were geoblocked.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing have been soaring under President Trump’s first term. The rift between both countries explode during the trade war and accelerated in 2020 following the virus pandemic. In July, Trump revoked Hong Kong’s special trading status after Beijing imposed national security law.
Tan summarizes the latest debacle: “If you interfere with information in a financial center, it’s like cutting off oxygen.”