Today, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and the PROTECT Hong Kong Act.
These two acts apply pressure to the Beijing and Hong Kong governments and support the pro-democracy demonstrators in their fight for their human rights, as promised to them in the treaty between the United Kingdom and China, which was registered with the United Nations. Those rights were then enshrined in the Hong Kong Basic Law.
The text of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/3289/text. The Wikipedia article on the bill says this:
According to the Congressional Research office, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act would direct various departments to assess whether political developments in Hong Kong justify changing Hong Kong’s unique treatment under U.S. law. Specifically, it would:Wikipedia article on Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act
• Require the Secretary of State to issue an annual certification of Hong Kong’s autonomy to justify special treatment afforded to Hong Kong by the U.S. Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.
• Require the President to identify persons responsible for the abductions of Hong Kong booksellers and journalists and those complicit in suppressing basic freedoms in Hong Kong, including those complicit in the rendition of individuals, in connection to their exercise of internationally recognized rights, to mainland China for detention or trial, and to freeze their U.S.-based assets and deny them entry into the United States.
• Require the President to issue a strategy to protect U.S. citizens and businesses from the risks posed by a revised Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, including by determining whether to revise the U.S.–Hong Kong extradition agreement and the State Department’s travel advisory for Hong Kong.
• Require the Secretary of Commerce to issue an annual report assessing whether the government of Hong Kong is adequately enforcing both U.S. export regulations regarding sensitive dual-use items and U.S. and U.N. sanctions, particularly regarding Iran and North Korea.
• Make clear that visa applicants shall not be denied visas on the basis of the applicant’s arrest, detention or other adverse government action taken as a result of their participation in the nonviolent protest activities related to pro-democracy advocacy, human rights, or the rule of law in Hong Kong.
For the pro-democracy movement, the first, second, and last items are likely the most significant.
First, if Hong Kong’s autonomy is not guaranteed, it may lose its special status as a trading partner with the U.S. This will put enormous pressure on Hong Kong’s business people. They have significant influence on the Hong Kong government, and to some degree on the Beijing government. The CCP is trying to replace the Hong Kong financial markets with markets in Shenzhen and Shanghai, but even if that is ultimately successful, it will take time – probably some years. Much of the capital from the west that finances China’s business enters through Hong Kong, so losing special status would be a blow not just to Hong Kong, but also to mainland China. It is not something Beijing can just ignore; though the CCP will no doubt downplay its importance.
Next, the second bullet point contains a bombshell in the clause that says that the President must “identify persons…complicit in suppressing basic freedoms in Hong Kong…and to freeze their U.S.-based assets and deny them entry into the United States.” That is big. Members of the Hong Kong government and police, as well as members of the Beijing government identified by the U.S. administration as having oppressed the human rights of the people of Hong Kong risk losing investments and property in the U.S. and being denied entry. Given that many wealthy Chinese from the mainland and from Hong Kong have investments and property in the U.S., it is a powerful statement.
Finally, the last bullet point says that the pro-democracy demonstrators are welcome in the U.S. regardless of whether Hong Kong or mainland China says they have committed crimes, as they should be. Fighting for one’s natural human rights is not a crime.
The PROTECT Hong Kong Act is perhaps more symbolic, in that it will restrict the sale of tear gas and other non-lethal munitions to the Hong Kong government and police by U.S. companies. Those non-lethal munitions can undoubtedly be sourced from other countries, so the impact on brutality and violence by the Hong Kong police is probably limited. Nevertheless, it does send another message to the Hong Kong government that the U.S. will not be complicit in its violation of the rights of the demonstrators.
We continue to urge the U.S. government to take additional measures to pressure the Beijing and Hong Kong governments to honor the promises that they have made in formal treaties and in the Basic Law, to respect the rights of all citizens of Hong Kong to self-representation, free speech, free assembly, and a free and impartial legal system (among others). In addition, there must be a free, impartial, and effective investigation into the clearly documented acts of brutality committed by the Hong Kong police. The U.S. has additional legal and diplomatic tools at its disposal, including designating individuals and organizations under the Global Magnitsky Act and placement on the Department of Commerce Entity List. Despite the shameful actions of a few, the vast majority of Americans support the pro-democracy demonstrations. Continued support by prominent Americans, senators, and representatives encourages the demonstrators and adds pressure to the Beijing and Hong Kong governments to take necessary steps to guarantee Hong Kong’s rights and freedom. Americans in a position to speak up in support should do so, not hide behind moral equivalence and platitudes to protect their wallets. Have moral courage to do what is right.