With the world no longer looking in so intently, police in Hong Kong overnight swept in and cleared one of the largest protest spots in the financial hub, arresting top leaders. But members of Congress already riled up about China reneging on promises of democracy to the city may not be as forgiving as Beijing’s men in Hong Kong hope.
The site cleared was in Mong Kok, a working-class area where Beijing-controlled mafia groups known as Triads have violently attacked the peaceful protesters in the past two months. Among those arrested were student leaders Joshua Wong and Lester Shum, 17 and 21 respectively.
Demonstrations by students began in September after China issued a strict interpretation of “universal suffrage” for the election of the chief executive in 2017.
Before Britain handed the former British colony to communist-ruled China in 1997, Chinese leaders promised Britain, Hong Kong and the world that China would allow the city to have “a high degree of autonomy” and “universal suffrage.” But earlier this year China said that Hong Kongers could vote for their leader but only among two or three candidates chosen by a Beijing-controlled committee.
To congressional leaders who held a hearing last week, this was unacceptable.
“Hong Kong is a test of China’s willingness to comply with its international commitments,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China at a hearing on Nov. 20. “If China can so easily renege on its promises to Hong Kong, then how can we expect China to hold up its end of the bargain on issues like World Trade Organization compliance or future trade agreements?”
Worse for China and its appointed government in Hong Kong, the feeling against China on this is bipartisan, a Washington rarity. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., concurred: “The future of Hong Kong’s democracy is truly an international concern.”
“Instead of keeping these promises, Beijing has decided to stack the desk against democracy and the rule of law,” said Smith. “Hong Kong’s continued autonomy and the advance of its democracy is a concern of the U.S. Congress and of freedom-loving peoples everywhere.”
A bipartisan and bicameral group of congressmen have introduced legislation called the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.” The bill amends the 1992 Hong Kong Policy Act by reinstituting the requirement that Congress report to the president on Hong Kong’s democratization on an annual basis—a clause that lapsed in 2007. It also requires the president to certify that Hong Kong has achieved sufficient autonomy before the U.S. undertakes any law or treaty that treats Hong Kong differently from the rest of China.
Hong Kong benefits greatly from the separate treatment it is accorded by the U.S., which waives export controls on high-tech products that it denies Mainland China.
It is unlikely that the Hong Kong police’s actions will do anything but expedite this bill.