Americans give a moderate priority to ensuring that Hong Kong has some independence from China. A slim plurality agreed with Britain's decision to return Hong Kong to China, but an overwhelming majority believed that, if given the choice, Hong Kong would have chosen to be independent. A strong majority does not trust China to keep its word to allow Hong Kong to preserve its present system.
Americans give a moderate priority to ensuring that Hong Kong has some independence from China. In a 2001 Pew poll, given a list of potential priorities in determining US policy towards China, “trying to assure that Hong Kong continues to have some independence from China” was rated as a top priority by 29%, some priority by 46% and no priority by 17%. While this represents some concern, respondents in the Pew poll put a higher priority on other issues in dealing with China such as promoting fair trade, human rights, and better environmental practices. 
In July 1997, Great Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule, conditioned on an agreement that it be allowed to preserve its institutions and way of life for 50 years. Given only two options of having Hong Kong "remain part of the British Empire" or "be turned over to China," a plurality agreed that Hong Kong should be returned. In a June 1997 Gallup survey 43% felt this way, compared to 38% who wanted China to stay under British control. 
However, an overwhelming majority of those who paid attention to the issue believed that the people of Hong Kong rejoined with China unwillingly.. When a June 1997 Fox News survey asked those who had heard or read about the transfer (60% of the total sample), 72% thought that "if the people of Hong Kong could choose" they would want to "become independent." Twelve percent thought they would choose to continue "as a British colony," and just 3% felt they would want to "transfer to Chinese authority." 
A strong majority felt that the transfer to Chinese rule would have negative consequences for the people of Hong Kong. A June 1997 Gallup poll found that 57% felt "Britain's decision to give control of Hong Kong back to China will make things worse for the people of Hong Kong." Only 27% rejected this view.  Among those who were following the story more closely, nearly two-thirds (64%) thought "the future of Hong Kong" would be "worse under Chinese rule" (Fox News, June 1997).  A slim majority (51%) told Time/CNN pollsters in April 1997 that "China will reduce human rights in Hong Kong after it has taken control there," while just 31% thought that wouldn't happen.  (Nevertheless, a 58% majority opposed the idea of the US "allowing legal immigration…to Hong Kong residents who leave after China takes control" (Time/CNN, April 1997). 
A plurality of Americans also felt that the transfer of Hong Kong to China would hurt US interests. The June 1999 Gallup poll asked if the "decision to give Hong Kong back to China will make things worse for the strategic interests of the United States, or not?" By 47% to 35%, respondents felt it would.  The expectation of negative consequences for Hong Kong residents and US interests speaks to a fundamental belief about the transfer. As the April 1997 CNN/Time survey found, 60% simply do not trust China to "keep its promise to preserve Hong Kong's capitalist way of life for 50 years."