America to Hong Kong: We’re watching

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Chris Smith (R-NJ) seeks to revive the Hong Kong Policy Act in the wake of the Occupy Central conflict. It would require the State Department to review the status of human rights in Hong Kong.

America moving to defend Hong Kong long term; ups its criticism of China
American Congressman Chris Smith (R-New Jersey 4th) is not only criticising China concerning Hong Kong, but is also looking to revive and strengthen mechanisms to monitor human rights in the Special Administrative Region. This ups the ante considerably from previous statements made by the White House and the US Consulate in Hong Kong.
Money to monitor
Mr Smith is a frequent critic of China’s human rights record, co-Chairman of Congress’s U.S. Commission on China (CECC) and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs global human rights subcommittee. A solid inside source has informed Harbour Times that Mr Smith has submitted an application for funding to enable and strengthen actions under the Hong Kong Policy Act. This would force the State Department to revive the practice of submitting an annual report on Hong Kong’s human rights situation. It could also provide for Congressional visits to Hong Kong to monitor human rights. HT is seeking confirmation from Mr Smith’s spokesperson at this time.
“This would force the State Department to revive the practice of submitting an annual report on Hong Kong’s human rights situation.
Smith said in a statement that he will be establishing a congressional Hong Kong Caucus to monitor human rights in the former British colony. Earlier this year, the CECC met with Anson Chan and Martin Lee and did not mince words in their April 3 report which lauded freedom and criticised China directly for meeting aspirations for human rights with “brutality and harassment“.
Mr Smith had this to say, “The freedom genie cannot be stuffed neatly back into the communist bottle. Beijing can accept this fact, work within the promised ‘One Country, Two Systems Model,’ and be lauded for its leadership, or Beijing can use force and repression again to stifle peaceful dissent and reform, losing the trust of the people of Hong Kong, neighboring countries, and the international community at large.”
The Consulate v Congress v Obama
Chris Smith’s stronger words came after a series of announcements that have seen America tiptoe towards stronger statements as events have progressed from indignation to an occupation of government premises, to tear gassing of protesters and then police retreat as students have led supporters to seize and hold huge swathes of the city, confounding traffic.
The US Consulate’s fairly neutral statement on September 29 urged peaceful resolutions, stability, and its support for “ Hong Kong’s well-established traditions and Basic Law protections of internationally recognized fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press.” It also stressed, “We do not take sides in the discussion of Hong Kong’s political development, nor do we support any particular individuals or groups involved in it.” That statement was followed by a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs letter to all Hong Kong based consulates advising them to keep their noses out of local disturbances, a story broken by Harbour Times.

The freedom genie cannot be stuffed neatly back into the communist bottle.

The White House petition mechanism requires that the White House respond if a petition on their petition website receives over 100,000 signatures. A petition regarding Hong Kong that hit over 196,000 supporters before closing, asked “We hereby strongly appeal to the U.S. government to make it clear to the Beijing authorities that any effort to crackdown peaceful demonstrations by force will be strongly opposed and severely punished.”
Reuters has described the White House as seeking to avoid direct conflict but voicing support for the “aspirations of Hong Kong people.” (U.S. takes cautious line in response to Hong Kong protests, September 30, 2014).
Locally, Mark Simon, former Chairman of Republicans Abroad in Hong Kong and frequent media commentator, currently in New York City, comments, “Certainly in the last couple of days we’ve seen the sands shift from the US taking a neutral stance to urging protection of the protesters and moving towards a more pro-democracy position.”
Mr Smith’s move comes when Congress is not sitting and is soon facing elections. The announcement of such a move should prove popular with voters who see Hong Kong as a David of economic political freedom against China’s Goliath of oppression. However, Congress does not sit until November, at which time other bigger priorities will crowd the agenda, also demanding funding and action. Another well known Republican, Senator Marco Rubio (Florida), was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying, “”We must make clear that any violence against peaceful protesters will have significant consequences for U.S.-China relations.” (U.S. Steps Up China Criticism Amid Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protests, September 29).
John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on China’s National Day. Wang Yi’s pre-meeting comments reminded the United States that Hong Kong was an internal affair.
On October 4, three former Consul Generals to Hong Kong issued a jointly signed open letter to CY Leung asking him to move to resolve the constitutional impasse. They slammed the recent NPSC White Paper, claiming it “clearly fails to advance Hong Kong’s system toward being more broadly representative or democratic.” Ambassador Richard L. Williams (CG from 1990 1993), Ambassador Richard A. Boucher (CG from 1996 to 1999), and the most recent Consul General, Ambassador Stephen M. Young (2010 – 2013) signed the letter.
In addition, a global series of events to criticise police action in Hong Kong and China’s policy vis a vis Hong Kong’s democratic aspirations took place outside Chinese embassies and consulates around the world on China’s National Day, October 1. San Francisco, Boston, New York City, Los Angeles and more saw Hong Kongers abroad, American citizens and other supporters protest China’s position regarding Hong Kong (see for our story on the Boston protests).
Mr Smith also said:
“Hong Kong’s continued autonomy is a concern of the U.S. Congress and of freedom-loving peoples everywhere,” said Smith. “That is why I am starting a Hong Kong Caucus in the Congress, to focus attention on Hong Kong and to make sure the tenets of the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 are advanced. In a world where there are many forces seeking to violently roll-back liberty and human rights, China must choose which side it will stand on. Embracing greater freedoms and universal suffrage may be a scary choice for the leaders in Beijing, but Hong Kong’s vitality, its prosperity, its freedoms and legal traditions have produced stability and a shining example for the world. Retaining Hong Kong’s unique system can have global historical implications.”