Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Co-Chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), and Tom Cotton (R-AR), a CECC Commissioner, today introduced the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, legislation that would renew the United States’ historical commitment to freedom and democracy in Hong Kong at a time when its autonomy is increasingly under assault. The legislation also establishes punitive measures against government officials in Hong Kong or mainland China who are responsible for suppressing basic freedoms in Hong Kong, especially in connection with the abduction of certain booksellers.
“When the British handed over Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997, Beijing promised Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy guaranteed under Basic Law,” said Rubio. “However, in recent years, Beijing has consistently undermined the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and infringed on the democratic freedoms the residents of Hong Kong are supposed to be guaranteed. This was on stark display over the last year with the abduction of the Hong Kong booksellers, the required loyalty oaths in the lead-up to the September LegCo elections, and last week with Beijing’s unprecedented intervention in Hong Kong’s legal system to block two democratically elected politicians from assuming office. China’s assault on democratic institutions and human rights is of central importance to the people of Hong Kong and to its status as a free market, economic powerhouse and hub for international trade and investment.
“The importance of this legislation was again impressed upon me today after meeting with pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who became the face of the Umbrella Movement for many in late 2014,” added Rubio. “Joshua is an impressive and thoughtful young man who, along with his fellow activists, represents the future of Hong Kong — a future that must not go the way of Beijing’s failed authoritarianism and one-party rule. It is critical in the days ahead that the democratic aspirations of the people of Hong Kong be a vital U.S. interest and foreign policy priority. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act reaffirms America’s support of the people of Hong Kong as they seek to oppose Beijing’s efforts to erode democratic institutions.”
“The United States must lead the world in ensuring that the Chinese government ceases any repressive acts in Hong Kong and abides by its three-decade-old international commitment to respect the autonomy of Hong Kong," said Cotton. “This bill would empower the president to hold Beijing accountable and send a strong message to Chinese officials that attempts to undermine liberty in Hong Kong and walk away from their promises will not be without consequences. Hong Kong’s unique identity and traditions of liberty, rule of law, and a market-based economy can be a model for a China that is a more productive player on the international stage. U.S. foreign policy should encourage those traditions, and strongly warn Beijing against any diminishment of those values.”
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act would:
- Reaffirm the principles set forth in the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, including support for democratization, human rights, and the importance of Hong Kong remaining sufficiently autonomous from China to justify different treatment under U.S. law.
- Reinstate the requirement for the Secretary of State to issue a report on conditions in Hong Kong of interest to the United States, including developments related to democratic institutions in Hong Kong, no later than 90 days after enactment and every year through 2023.
- Require the Secretary of State 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.
- Require the President to identify persons responsible for the surveillance, abduction, detention, or forced confessions of certain booksellers and journalists in Hong Kong, and other actions suppressing basic freedoms, and to freeze their U.S.-based assets and deny them entry into the U.S.
- Make clear that visa applicants who resided in Hong Kong in 2014 shall not be denied visas on the basis of the applicant’s arrest, detention or other adverse government action taken as a result of their participation in the nonviolent protest activities related to Hong Kong’s electoral process.