US blocks Hong Kong users from some government websites

US blocks Hong Kong users from some government websites

The US has blocked Hong Kong residents from accessing at least two federal government websites that provide economic data, in a development that could fuel rising tensions between Washington and Beijing over the semi-autonomous territory.

The websites of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which publishes economic information including monthly jobs and unemployment figures, and the US Census Bureau, which releases data such as retail sales, new residential construction and international trade, have been inaccessible to Hong Kong internet users for months.

The Financial Times contacted multiple US government agencies for information on the reasons for the blocked websites in Hong Kong but received limited responses. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Labor, which includes the Bureau of Labor Statistics, declined to comment on “security procedures” but confirmed that “agencies began implementing geoblocks that included Hong Kong in January 2018” — nearly three years ago.

That would mean the measures started more than two years before the US punished the Asian financial centre 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. 

The US Census Bureau neither confirmed nor denied the federal government had blocked its website but said it “continually reviews cyber threat reporting and adjusts accordingly as circumstances evolve”.