Mon, 14 Oct 2019

US Lawmakers Pledge Support for Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Activists

Voice of America
19 Sep 2019, 09:05 GMT+10

VOA Mandarin Service's Xu Teng contributed to this report.

CAPITOL HILL - U.S. lawmakers will move next week to begin passing legislation combating human rights abuses in Hong Kong, an action intended to send long-term support to democracy activists there.

If passed, the bill would allow President Donald Trump to use the Magnitsky Act to sanction Hong Kong and Chinese authorities for human rights abuses, while ensuring protesters are not denied entry visas to the United States and that Hong Kong is complying with U.S. sanctions and laws.

A Trump administration official told a Senate panel Wednesday the U.S. had already been successful in supporting the efforts of pro-democracy activists.

"I'll take a little credit, the U.S. government, on having applied sufficient pressure and encouraged Beijing to do the right thing in Hong Kong," David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

After months of protests, activists in Hong Kong succeeded in forcing the withdrawal of an extradition bill widely seen as an incursion by the mainland Chinese government. Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in June to protest that legislation, fearing it would threaten the autonomy of the city and endanger dissidents.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam withdrew the bill in September but has not responded to activists' push for other demands, including amnesty for arrested protesters and an investigation into police brutality.

Sen. Marco Rubio told VOA the Senate version of the legislation is expected to come up for a vote in the Foreign Relations Committee at the end of September.

"It is mostly technical changes on the process of determining the status of autonomy," he said Wednesday of the work that still needs to be done on the legislation. "The State Department, which will be in charge of implementing the bill, had some technical suggestions. We're implementing and incorporating those."

House Foreign Affairs ranking member Michael McCaul said the committee would begin work marking up their version of the bill next week. The two versions of the legislation would still have to be reconciled before heading to Trump to be signed into law.

"Chinese authorities will not get away with using violence and intimidation to squash the fundamental freedoms, freedom of speech, of assembly, of demonstration that are guaranteed by law to the people of Hong Kong," House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel said of the House legislation. "It also sends the message that Beijing's attempt to undermine Hong Kong's autonomy is not just a problem for the people of Hong Kong; it's a concern of the United States, as well."

Pro-democracy activist Denise Ho said the House bill would send a powerful message.

"This is a message to these Hong Kong people that we are not isolated in this fight," Ho said. "We are in the forefront of this very global fight for universal values."

Ho is one of a number of activists in Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement on Capitol Hill this week, pushing U.S. lawmakers to take action on the legislation.

U.S. assistance to Hong Kong enjoys an unusually bipartisan measure of support in Washington, uniting lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in support of the movement.

Lawmakers are also working on legislation that would ban the sale of police equipment to Hong Kong.

"U.S. companies should not be complicit in the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters," said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat who is co-sponsoring the bill along with Republican Rep. Chris Smith.

Senate Democrats expressed concern the Trump administration is not fully utilizing the Hong Kong Policy Act to bring pressure to bear on China. Passed in 1992, the legislation separates Hong Kong from mainland China in U.S. eyes for trade and economic purposes. U.S. presidents can modify the act if Hong Kong becomes less autonomous, leveraging pressure on China.

"It's difficult to nail down exactly one aspect of that or one area we can push on. I would say that I'm fully aware of the act. And we've been in a long discussion on its implementation, the impacts on both the U.S. and on China," Stilwell said Wednesday.

He also said he had no information on the possibility the administration could use other legal avenues to identify individuals for financial sanctions.

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