A bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. Congress on Thursday seeking to revive a provision in U.S. law requiring scrutiny of political reforms in Hong Kong following Beijing’s refusal to allow fully free leadership elections for the former British colony, lawmakers said.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Bill, submitted to both the House of Representatives and the Senate, called for the revival of annual reports by the U.S. government to Congress on political developments in Hong Kong under a 1992 law.
The move came as pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong blocked key Hong Kong intersections for the sixth week to press their demands for fully free elections for the city's next leader in 2017.
The U.S. State Department had suspended submitting reports on Hong Kong to lawmakers since 2000, three years after Britain returned the territory to China.
The new 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,” a statement by the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China said Thursday.
US President’s certification
The bill would also require the U.S. 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.”
“Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms—essential to its relations with the U.S.—are under threat from China,” said Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, chairman of the commission.
“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,” he said.
Republican Congressman Chris Smith, the commission’s co-chairman, said “the steady erosion” of Hong Kong’s autonomy “is the concern of freedom-loving people everywhere.”
“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.”
Smith said that 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 commission also announced on Thursday that a hearing would be held in the Senate next week on “The Future of Democracy in Hong Kong,” saying the ongoing protests have focused global attention on Hong Kong’s debate over the future of its political system.
The Nov. 20 hearing will examine China’s commitments to Hong Kong and the international community in light of the recent pro-democracy protests,” Brown and Smith said in a separate statement.
China's rubber stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), ruled on Aug. 31 that candidates for the 2017 elections in Hong Kong should be screened by a mostly pro-Beijing nominating panel, indicating that pro-democracy candidates would be sidelined.
Hong Kong pro-democracy protest leaders said Thursday they plan to travel to Beijing this weekend to raise their demands for political reform to the Chinese authorities after talks with the Hong Kong government failed to break the impasse.
Hong Kong, a regional business hub, was handed back to China under the "one country, two systems" principle which promises to maintain the city's social and economic systems until 2047.
Reported by RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese services. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.