WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee and Ranking Member Marco Rubio (R-FL) were joined by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China chair U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and co-chair U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-4) along with Roger Wicker (R-MS), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and U.S. Representatives Dan Lipinski (IL-3), Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA-12), and Frank Wolf (VA-10) introducing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a bipartisan bill that would renew the United States’ commitment to Hong Kong’s freedom and democracy.
“Civil society and democratic freedoms are under attack around the world and Hong Kong is on the front lines. The United States has a responsibility to protect human rights and defend against these threats,” Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee said. “Our bipartisan legislation makes clear the U.S. position that these issues cannot be marginalized as we grow our bilateral economic and security relationships in the region.”
“As recent events have demonstrated, China remains just as committed as ever to suppressing dissent and preventing democracy in Hong Kong as it is on the mainland. The U.S. should make clear that we stand on the side of the democratic aspirations of the people of Hong Kong and against attempts to suppress their voices. This legislation would provide a much needed update to existing laws regarding the U.S.-Hong Kong relationship and help to ensure that Hong Kong remains truly autonomous from Beijing,” Rubio, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee said.
“Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms—essential to its relations with the U.S.—are under threat from China. At this critical time, we must strongly support the universal rights of the people of Hong Kong, including free and fair elections in 2017 and beyond,” Brown, chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China said. “Our bipartisan bill would ensure that the United States can continue to monitor Hong Kong while ensuring that its democracy and freedoms remain a cornerstone of U.S. policy.”
“The steady erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy is the concern of freedom-loving people everywhere,” Smith, co-chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China said. “Hong Kong’s unique system has ensured prosperity and spurred the type of creativity and vitality that only comes with the advancement of fundamental freedoms. Protecting these freedoms are a bedrock interest of U.S. foreign policy. The special privileges the U.S. grants to Hong Kong can only exist and endure if Beijing fulfills its commitments, including guaranteeing human rights and free and fair elections.”
“The United States should stand steadfast with the people of Hong Kong in their fight to exercise self-determination,” Wicker, vice-chairman of the Helsinki Commission said. “This is an opportunity to speak with a unified American voice in support of universal freedom and democratic values. The Congress and the Obama Administration should act to ensure China honors its longstanding obligation under international law to maintain Hong Kong’s autonomy.”
“I am joining many of my colleagues in Congress in supporting Hong Kong’s autonomy, while also calling for the Chinese government to show leadership and restraint in dealing with the peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations that have occurred in Hong Kong,” Rep. Dan Lipinski said. “This is a crucial moment for Hong Kong and China, as conducting free and fair elections by universal suffrage is a guarantee that China itself made to Hong Kong. Any effort to end these demonstrations with aggressive force or disrupt the unique government structure that exists between China and Hong Kong will have a serious impact on China’s relationship with the many nations of this world that stand for democracy and freedom.”
The legislation would update the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 by reinstating and strengthening the U.S. State Department’s annual report to Congress on conditions in Hong Kong of interest to the United States. The bill would require the President to certify that Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous before enacting any new laws or agreements affording Hong Kong different treatment from the People’s Republic of China. The legislation would also allow the President to waive the certification requirement on national security grounds.
Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, Hong Kong was supposed to enjoy a “high degree of autonomy” and freedoms that do not exist in mainland China. Hong Kong citizens were also supposed to be allowed to freely elect their Chief Executive in 2017 and the entire Legislative Council in 2020 in “universal suffrage” elections. This past year, however, China continued to take steps to erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms, including an August decision that would allow only pro-Beijing candidates to run for Chief Executive in 2017. In its 2014 Annual Report released in October, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China “continued to observe developments that raised concerns about the state of democratic development, press freedom, and government transparency in Hong Kong.”