Freedom, democracy and America’s role in the world
Published 8:56 am Monday, November 25, 2019
For almost six months, the people of Hong Kong have taken to the streets to protest the abuses of the Chinese Communist Party. Recent clashes make clear that police are stepping up their cruelty, with beatings becoming the go-to tactic of repression and rubber bullets occasionally being replaced by live ammunition. Despite this brutality, the brave protesters are continuing to demand their rights.
The dictatorship in Beijing needs to deescalate and respect Hong Kong’s self-governance. The world is watching Hong Kong today, just as it did Berlin, Budapest and Prague during the Cold War. As then, this is about more than one faraway city.
Why Hong Kong Matters
The United States has a clear national interest in stopping a communist takeover of Hong Kong. If the city were a country, it would be our 19th largest trading partner, ahead of countries like Australia and Israel. Almost 300 U.S. companies have headquarters in Hong Kong, and 75,000 Americans live and work there.
It was not by accident that a fishing village in eastern China became one of the world’s largest business centers. The former colony thrived under British leadership, inheriting a position as a commercial and trading capital with many of the same legal traditions we enjoy in the United States.
When the United Kingdom honored its treaty obligations by giving up control of Hong Kong to mainland China in 1997, it did so only after Beijing agreed in writing to grant the territory “a high degree of autonomy” — known as “one country, two systems.” While communist ideology reigns in the rest of the country, the Basic Law guarantees Hong Kongers a free-market economy and rule of law.
From the beginning, the Beijing regime has tried to chip away at this arrangement, barring candidates from running in local elections, intimidating journalists, and increasing state-owned enterprises. The protests, which began in June, were sparked by a proposed law that would have given the Chinese government the authority to prosecute Hong Kongers in show trials on the mainland, destroying the island’s judicial independence.
The Chinese Communist Party’s actions in Hong Kong are part of a pattern of increased authoritarianism and aggression elsewhere. In Tibet, for example, many dissidents fled decades ago, and those who remain live under state-sanctioned violence and with limited access to the outside world. On the western side of the country, more than a million religious minorities are being held in prison camps. China is violating international waters and taking over the South China Sea through force.
A Pivotal Moment in History
Congress is standing with the protesters against Beijing. Last week, the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, which I cosponsored. This bill will sanction human rights abusers in Hong Kong and direct the State Department to monitor more closely whether or not China is respecting the “one country, two systems” policy or instead tightening its stranglehold. I am also working on legislation to cut off the Hong Kong Police Force’s access to American-made crowd control supplies. In addition, I am joining many of my colleagues in calling on U.S. companies, including the National Basketball Association, not to cave to Chinese censorship.
What is happening in Hong Kong today represents a pivotal moment in history. I am glad an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority of Congress has sent a strong message that we stand for freedom and self-determination.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is the senior Senator from Mississippi.