Stand Up for Democracy in Hong Kong

The selection in March of the Beijing loyalist Carrie Lam as Hong Kong’s next leader is the latest sign that China will continue to tighten its grip on this city. Political divisions will deepen and mistrust of the government will rise.

Ms. Lam, who was picked to be chief executive by an election committee stacked in Beijing’s favor, has long taken a hard-line approach to suppressing dissent. As the former No. 2 official under the unpopular outgoing leader, Leung Chun-ying, she presided over the political reform process that ignited the Umbrella Movement of 2014, in which tens of thousands of Hong Kongers occupied major thoroughfares for three months demanding democratic rights.

With Hong Kong’s autonomy plummeting to a 20-year low, it’s more important than ever for Washington to affirm its commitment to freedom in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, introduced by a bipartisan group of senators in February, would put the Hong Kong people’s rights at the center of United States policy toward the semiautonomous Chinese territory.

The legislation, an update to a 1992 law governing relations between the United States and Hong Kong, would authorize the president to freeze United States-based assets of individuals who have suppressed freedoms in Hong Kong and deny them entry to America, require the secretary of state to issue an annual report on Hong Kong’s political situation until at least 2023 and guarantee that Hong Kongers who have participated in nonviolent assembly would not be denied American visas on the basis of their arrest.

The selection in March of the Beijing loyalist Carrie Lam as Hong Kong’s next leader is the latest sign that China will continue to tighten its grip on this city. Political divisions will deepen and mistrust of the government will rise.

Protesting against Carrie Lam after she declared her victory in the chief executive election of Hong Kong in March. Credit
Vincent Yu / Associated Press

Ms. Lam, who was picked to be chief executive by an election committee stacked in Beijing’s favor, has long taken a hard-line approach to suppressing dissent. As the former No. 2 official under the unpopular outgoing leader, Leung Chun-ying, she presided over the political reform process that ignited the Umbrella Movement of 2014, in which tens of thousands of Hong Kongers occupied major thoroughfares for three months demanding democratic rights.

With Hong Kong’s autonomy plummeting to a 20-year low, it’s more important than ever for Washington to affirm its commitment to freedom in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, introduced by a bipartisan group of senators in February, would put the Hong Kong people’s rights at the center of United States policy toward the semiautonomous Chinese territory.

The legislation, an update to a 1992 law governing relations between the United States and Hong Kong, would authorize the president to freeze United States-based assets of individuals who have suppressed freedoms in Hong Kong and deny them entry to America, require the secretary of state to issue an annual report on Hong Kong’s political situation until at least 2023 and guarantee that Hong Kongers who have participated in nonviolent assembly would not be denied American visas on the basis of their arrest.

President Trump hasn’t spoken much yet about Hong Kong, but his China policy has been disappointing. He showed some early signs of hope when, as president-elect, he seemed willing to challenge the unjust “One China” policy on Taiwan, but he has since backed off from his tough talk against Beijing.

Congress should do its part to renew White House interest in Hong Kong, sending a message that the United States is concerned about our political freedom. Hong Kong, in spite of all the difficulties it is facing, remains the freest territory under Chinese control. For dissidents in the mainland, Hong Kong’s social movements have long been sources of hope. Safeguarding what has made Hong Kong unique is in Washington’s interest, especially if Americans wish to someday see a free and democratic China.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act — recently introduced in the Senate by Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton, along with Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin — has received bipartisan backing at this early stage. American conservatives and liberals alike should support the bill and help uphold their shared values of freedom and democracy for this corner of the world.

Joshua Wong is the secretary general and a co-founder of Demosisto, a political party in Hong Kong. Jeffrey Ngo, chief researcher for Demosisto, is a master’s degree student in global histories at New York University.

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