Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong addressed a congressional hearing in Washington on Tuesday and called for bipartisan support for the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. He told the hearing that Beijing was foisting an increasingly authoritarian rule upon his city.
The 22-year-old politician and his Demosisto party are seeking support across the world for the democratic movement in the former British colony, now a special administrative region in China after its handover in 1997.
Wong told US congressmen including Jim McGovern, chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, that a bill mandating a periodic review of the health of Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” framework and its autonomy, as a prerequisite for continued preferential trade treatment, would deter Beijing and the Hong Kong government from chipping away at the city’s liberty and freedoms.
The bill, which is still being discussed, could link a host of trade and business privileges for Hong Kong to the city’s political status. It may also introduce sanctions against individuals that undermine the city’s standing as the freest place within China.
“Hong Kong people stand on the forefront to confront authoritarian rule and authoritarian crackdown,” Wong said. “If Hong Kong falls then the next may be the free world… Now is the time for the US Congress to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and also, I hope, the US government could review its foreign policy and its dealings with China to prioritize human rights issues.”
Singer and activist Denise Ho, whose songs and performances were banned on mainland China due to her political stance, also testified at the bipartisan hearing.
McGovern noted in his opening remarks that Beijing should “be put on an annual notice” that further erosion of autonomy or a crackdown in Hong Kong would cause mainland China to lose its special trade arrangement with the US. He said the bill would be passed in the House and the Senate, now that “we get the message.”
Reports say support for the bill cuts across party lines and is gaining momentum. To date, 18 senators and 25 representatives have stated their support.
The Hong Kong activists were in Berlin last week, where Wong addressed a human rights forum in the German parliament and met with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
They also stopped in New York on their way to Washington for interviews with leading media outlets and attended a pro-Hong Kong rally in Times Square, plus a talk at Columbia University.
Wong and Ho will remain in the US capital in the next few days to meet politicians including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Earlier this month, tens of thousands of people waved the US flag while calling for support outside the US consulate in Hong Kong. Many citizens want the Trump administration to act on Beijing’s bid to wind back freedoms that the city enjoys, as well as its threats to call in Chinese troops to top ongoing protests against a now-retracted China extradition bill.
Beijing responded angrily to the hearing, damning Wong and his peers as secessionists and renegades. It says US concerns about Hong Kong are “pious and mendacious”.
Impact on US firms?
Meanwhile, members of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing bloc have also been busy building a case against the bill.
Lawmaker and Liberal Party leader Felix Chung said it was unfair that the US Congress was only listening to one side of the argument. He claimed that some congressmen he talked to recently said they did not want to interfere in Hong Kong and China’s affairs, as it would complicate relations, and they wanted the city to settle the issue on its own.
But Chung said he would not be surprised if the act was approved, according to RTHK.
Other lawmakers including Starry Lee, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, told Hanscom Smith, the US Consul General in Hong Kong, that Beijing and the city government could retaliate if the act is passed.
Last week, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the 1,400 US companies operating in the city also enjoy the benefits of a positive relationship. Many of them have their Asian head offices in the city and could be affected by any unilateral act to change trade ties, she said.
Hong Kong is among America’s top 10 largest export markets and the single largest source of trade surplus merchandise over the years. The US booked a surplus of US$31 billion in its trade dealings with the city in 2018 and $15.66 billion in the first seven months of this year, according to the US Census Bureau.