Smith Honored for Work on Hong Kong Human Rights & Democracy Act
At a Capitol Hill policy conference hosted Tuesday by the Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC), Rep. Chris Smith, a senior human rights lawmaker in the US Congress, was recognized for his years of work to enact the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, which President Trump signed into law late last year.
“We would like to honor and recognize Mr. Smith for his pioneering and prophetic role in the introduction and passing of the Hong Kong Human Rights Democracy Act,” said Samuel M. Chu, HKDC Managing Director, noting that Smith authored the first Hong Kong human rights bill in 2014. “This did not start in 2019. The journey for fighting for this particular law and the pressure we now have on Hong Kong—it started in 2014 and it started in your office.
Chu said for many years, Smith was the lone voice promoting fundamental freedoms and protections for Hong Kongers. He called Smith a great friend to Hong Kong and “closest ally and friend in Congress.”
In accepting the recognition, Smith quickly turned the tables and credited the Council who supported and emboldened the courageous, democracy leaders in Hong Kong.
“What a privilege to be with you, the people who are really the soldiers that had made the difference in nonviolent, civil disobedient individuals and who have said ‘we have the backs of those who want democracy and human rights in Hong Kong’,” said Smith, Senior Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC). “What the Hong Kongers do is what all of the rest of China would love to do—and that is to be free to live out their human rights, to aspire to economic wealth, and create more jobs. The Hong Kong people, they know how to do it. They are industrious. But unfortunately, there’s a repressive system that’s been made 10 times worse under President Xi Jinping since he’s come to office.”
Smith introduced the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in every Congress since 2014 until final passage and enactment on Nov. 27, 2019. “I tried so hard to get it passed early to send a clear and unambiguous signal to Beijing and the Hong Kong leadership that we were not kidding. We want a free and prosperous Hong Kong. And the people deserve it. But if you are going to go in the opposite direction, there will be predictable consequences.” The Hong Kong government’s controversial extradition bill spurred enough support to get the bill passed, Smith said.
“Basic Law is under attack. The Sino-UK Agreement is under attack,” Smith said. And unless resisted aggressively, “it’s only a matter of if not when, Hong Kong will look like any other city under siege in the People’s Republic of China,” he said.
Smith’s bill, H.R. 3289, passed the House October 15, 2019. The final bill that was enacted in November was drafted in collaboration with colleagues in the Senate, S.1838, was introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act has sanctions for those who commit human rights abuses in Hong Kong. Although the Hong Kong government’s controversial extradition bill to allow extradition of Hong Kong residents to China was begrudgingly withdrawn earlier in 2019, the residents of Hong Kong, especially students, took to the streets for months to assert rights to universal suffrage, investigation of police tactics and basic freedoms. The Act allows for more flexible and robust U.S. responses to the steady erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and human rights.
Smith is a commissioner on the Congressional Executive Commission on China, which he chaired for two terms.
HKDC is a Washington, DC-based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting democracy and human rights in Hong Kong led dominantly by people from Hong Kong living in the US. The group focuses on the challenges facing Hong Kong and US-Hong Kong relations and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.