We’ve been watching recent events unfolding in Hong Kong with understandable concern. Most prominently, their recent municipal elections resulted in two pro-independence candidates being chosen by the voters. China quickly weighed in, effectively vetoing the results and this week a court in Hong Kong agreed, vacating the offices. These moves are obviously designed to send the message that any pretense of independence for Hong Kong is illusory and China remains firmly in control.
So that can the United States do about it? (Assuming, of course, that we should do anything.) We probably can’t do much about the election results, but in terms of the broader questions of freedom and basic human rights, Republican Senators Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio reintroduced a bill which was first proposed in early 2015. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act will seek to directly punish Chinese and Hong Kong officials who engage in the suppression of free speech for the people of Hong Kong. (Quartz)
Two US Republican senators have introduced new legislation that would punish Hong Kong or mainland Chinese officials who suppress basic freedoms in Hong Kong in the wake of Beijing’s increasing interference into the city’s promised high autonomy.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act was introduced by Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Marco Rubio of Florida on Nov. 16. The legislation, which has yet been enacted into law, requires the US president to identify those “responsible for the surveillance, abduction, detention, or forced confessions of certain booksellers and journalists in Hong Kong.” The government would then freeze their assets in the country and deny them entry into the US, according to a statement.
The legislation came after Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong’s Nov. 16 visit to Capitol Hill. The 20-year-old, one of the most prominent student leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, spoke at an event organized by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), which monitors China’s human rights, and urged president-elect Donald Trump to “fully support human rights in Hong Kong.” Cotton and Rubio serve respectively as commissioner and co-chair of the CECC.
If this bill passes it will be one of the most aggressive moves against prominent leaders of authoritarian regimes that we’ve seen outside of sanctions placed on certain officials in Russia and Iran in the past decade. Identifying and freezing the western assets of Chinese and Hong Kong officials would be a major slap in the face and would make foreign relations with one of the planet’s major economic superpowers more difficult for the new administration.
So is that any reason not to do it? Not at all. If we’re truly going to walk the walk the same way we talk the talk, this sends a powerful signal to the rest of the world. It’s not the sort of thing which is likely to prompt immediate change in China’s behavior and they have tools of their own to respond in kind, but it’s a good first step. As to how it impacts the Trump administration, hey… he asked for the job. Nobody said it would be easy. Trump has spoken repeatedly about holding China to account for the bad deals which we’ve cut with them in the past. The same should apply to humanitarian questions.
Short of actually going to war with them, economic carrot and stick maneuvers such as this are one of the few tools we have available. If this bill actually makes it through Congress I hope President Trump will consider it favorably. That’s a big “if” however, because it will take some serious spine on the part of the legislative branch to pass it.