Bipartisan Group of Legislators Announces Bill to Ensure that U.S. Policy Supports Hong Kong’s Freedom and Democracy
Today U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) along with Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL) announced introduction of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, HR 1159, a bipartisan bill that would enhance U.S. monitoring of Hong Kong’s autonomy and human rights and ensure that these issues remain a cornerstone of U.S. policy.
“The steady erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy, press freedoms, and the rule of law should be concerns of freedom-loving people everywhere,” said Smith, Chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and the Congressional Hong Kong Caucus. “A status quo U.S. policy is unsustainable if Beijing continues to insist that Hong Kong become like mainland China. Hong Kong's unique system has ensured prosperity and spurred the type of creativity and vitality that only comes with the advancement of fundamental freedoms. The special privileges the U.S. grants to Hong Kong can only endure if Beijing fulfills its longstanding obligation under international law to maintain Hong Kong’s autonomy, guarantee human rights and allow free and fair elections in 2017 and beyond.”
Engel, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said “When the British returned the city of Hong Kong to the Chinese government in 1997, Beijing promised that Hong Kong would retain its special rights and autonomy. Beijing also set the expectation that, in 2017, the people of Hong Kong would be allowed to elect a leader through ‘universal suffrage.’ Recent events, including the August 2014 decision that proscribed limitations on Hong Kong’s electoral process, make clear Beijing intends instead to maintain a firm grasp on Hong Kong’s political development. My concern is not just about election mechanics but about Hong Kong’s future as an open society under Beijing’s ‘one country, two systems’ regime.”
“In 2014, the world watched as thousands of Hong Kong’s citizens voiced their desire for universal suffrage and real electoral reform,” said Rep. Lipinski (IL-3) “U.S. policy must respond to the message the demonstrators sent, ensuring that Hong Kong maintains a democratic course in its elections, and preserves its political and economic autonomy from mainland China. This bill is an important step towards protecting Hong Kong’s status and I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan legislation. Efforts to silence the people of Hong Kong’s independent voice will undoubtedly have a serious impact on China’s relationship with the many nations of this world that stand for democracy and freedom.”
The legislation updates the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 by reinstating the U.S. State Department’s annual report on conditions in Hong Kong of interest to the United States. The bill would require the Secretary of State to certify annually that Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous before enacting any new laws or agreements affording Hong Kong different treatment from the People’s Republic of China. The legislation would also allow the Secretary of State to waive the certification requirement on national security grounds.
Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, Hong Kong was supposed to enjoy a “high degree of autonomy” and freedoms that do not exist in mainland China. Based on a 2007 decision by Beijing’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NSCSC), Hong Kong citizens expected to be allowed to freely elect their Chief Executive in 2017 and the entire Legislative Council in 2020 through “universal suffrage” elections. This past year, however, China took steps that erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms, including an August 2014 decision by the National People’s Congress (NPC) that raised very serious concerns that only pro-Beijing candidates would be nominated for Chief Executive in 2017.
The Hong Kong government is expected to finish a public consultation on electoral reform in March 2015 and shortly afterward propose a plan to conduct elections. Given the tens of thousands of Hong Kong people who demonstrated peacefully last year for democratic reforms, the Hong Kong and Chinese governments should seek new proposals for electoral reform, instead of insisting that any proposal adhere to the restrictive August 2014 NPC decision. The Hong Kong police have arrested hundreds of participants from the 2014 protests and threatened prosecution.