Full Committee Passes Smith-McGovern Hong Kong Human Rights & Democracy Act
Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-NJ) bipartisan bill, HR 3289, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, was unanimously passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee today sending a unified message to the governments of China and Hong Kong that the peaceful protesters of that long-autonomous city have the full support and backing of American lawmakers. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) along with more than three dozen other cosponsors joined Smith on the bill.
At its core, the Smith-McGovern bill directs the Secretary of State to certify to Congress annually whether Hong Kong continues to deserve special treatment under U.S. law different from mainland China in such matters as trade, customs, sanctions enforcement, law enforcement cooperation, and protection of human rights and the rule of law. House leadership has promised to bring Smith’s bill to the House Floor for a vote as soon as possible. (PHOTO: Rep. Smith details his Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act at a bipartisan press conference held in the Capitol Building Sept. 19, 2019 with Hong Kong human rights leaders.)
Here are excerpts of Smith’s remarks at the markup:
“The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that facilitated the conveyance of Hong Kong from the UK to the PRC beginning July 1, 1997 was absolutely clear that autonomy, human rights including press, assembly, association and religion would be exactly the same as before the handover for at least 50 years.
The “Basic Law” of Hong Kong adopted by China’s National People’s Congress in 1990 was also clear that autonomy and rights would be protected.
i.e. Article 5: “The Socialist systems and police shall not be practiced in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous Capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.
Today those promises solemnly undertaken by Beijing have eroded and as stated in the most recent State Department report “diminished.”
As members will recall, the US Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 requires that report—the last one only covered from May of 2018 to March of 2019. Since that report the situation has gotten demonstrably worse.
On a daily basis we are reminded of the desire of the brave people of Hong Kong to be free, and how the totalitarian regime of Xi Jinping is working to dismantle the rights and liberties of the people of Hong Kong piecemeal.
Five years ago, I first introduced the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act with my then-China Commission Cochair Senator Sherrod Brown. The bill allowed for more flexible and robust U.S. responses to the steady erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and human rights.
Over the years, Senator Rubio and I upgraded the bill to reflect the kidnapping of booksellers, the disqualification of elected lawmakers, and the political prosecutions of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Benny Tai and others.
However, every time we pushed for passage there was opposition from diplomats, experts, committee Chairs, and the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.
This time, however, is different. The situation on the ground in Hong Kong is different, and there is a growing realization that for a free and autonomous Hong Kong, the hour is very late. Thus lead Democratic co-sponsor Jim McGovern and I introduced the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act with a renewed sense of urgency.
I also thank the Chairman and Ranking Member for their leadership in moving this bill with the objective of quickly bringing it to the floor, with the full support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Specifically, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act would:
• Direct the Secretary of State to certify to Congress annually whether Hong Kong continues to deserve special treatment under U.S. law different from mainland China in such matters as trade, customs, sanctions enforcement, law enforcement cooperation, and protection of human rights and the rule of law.
• Underscore the need for the State Department not to deny entry visas based on the applicants’ arrest or detention for participating in nonviolent protest activities in Hong Kong.
• Require an annual report on whether the Hong Kong government adequately enforces U.S. export controls and sanctions laws
• Require the Secretary of State to submit a strategy to Congress to protect U.S. citizens and businesses in Hong Kong from the erosion of autonomy and the rule of law because of actions taken by the Chinese Communist governments
• Require the President to identify and sanction persons in Hong Kong or in mainland China responsible for the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and serious abuses of human rights.
This particular Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute that I offer here in committee further directs the State Department to provide greater analysis of the threats to Hong Kong’s autonomy and extends the period of reporting. By requiring certification by the Secretary of State, it helps ensure an honest evaluation of the situation as it really is on the ground, much as our annual trafficking in persons tier rankings are intended to do. And it contains a waiver provision that helps ensure that our actions enhance the autonomy of Hong Kong, rather than inadvertently harming it.”
On Sept. 19, Smith-McGovern, HR 3289, was the focus of a press conference held by Speaker Nancy Pelosi that included Smith, Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-TX), of House Foreign Affairs Committee; Congressional-Executive Commission (CECC) on China Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA); Joshua Wong, Secretary-General of Demosistō and “Umbrella Movement” Leader; Nathan Law, Founding Chairman and Standing Committee Member, Demosistō; Denise Ho, Pro-democracy Activist and Cantopop Singer and Actress, and pro-democracy activists.