In a strong show of support for the three-month-old anti-extradition and pro-democracy movement, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representives, Nancy Pelosi, has pledged to move ahead speedily with the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act that could see sanctions imposed on officials found to have deprived the city's residents of their human rights.
Speaking in Washington after hearing from a delegation of Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners including Joshua Wong and Cantopop star Denise Ho, Pelosi said that U.S. government policy shouldn't be driven by commercial interests alone.
"If we do not speak up because of commercial interests in support of human rights in China, we lose all moral authority to speak up for them in any other place in the world," Pelosi told journalists after the hearing.
She said the Hong Kong protesters were "challenging the conscience, not only of the Chinese government, but the conscience of the world."
There is strong bipartisan support for the bill, which will require the U.S. government to stop according the city separate trading status if its promised freedoms and political autonomy continue to be eroded under Chinese rule.
The bill also seeks to "establish punitive measures against government officials in Hong Kong or mainland China who are responsible for suppressing basic freedoms in Hong Kong."
Pelosi said the pledge by Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam to formally withdraw the widely-hated extradition bill when the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) reconvenes in October was a welcome development, but "not enough."
"We all know it's not enough. Much more must be done," she said.
Political reform demands
The anti-extradition protesters are also demanding that Lam release all protesters without charge, that the government stop describing the protests as riots or protesters as violent.
They also want the government to set up an independent public inquiry into police use of tear gas, batons, rubber and textile bullets, and batons to attack crowds of largely peaceful demonstrators, and their failure to properly pursue the perpetrators of bloody attacks by triad-linked thugs on protesting crowds.
And they want Lam to formally dissolve LegCo and implement political reforms leading to fully democratic elections with public nominations both to the legislature and for the city's chief executive.
Lam has refused all along to countenance such concessions, preferring to focus on the economic costs of the protest movement without addressing the political crisis that sparked it.
Michael McCaul, senior Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the people of Hong Kong that they have the full support of the U.S.
"America stands with you, and America will always support you," McCaul said.
"This is a battle between democracy versus dictatorship, liberty versus tyranny and freedom versus oppression," he said.
"The world will not stand by idly while the Chinese Communist Party continues to commit human rights violations."
A Chinese foreign affairs official in Hong Kong hit out at Pelosi for "blatant interference in the affairs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) and China's affairs" on the pretext of supporting freedom and justice.
Joshua Wong said Wednesday had been "a remarkable day."
But he added: "We will continue our uphill battle until the day we enjoy freedom and democracy."
Denise Ho said the support of U.S. politicians meant that the people of Hong Kong aren't alone.
"This is a message to the Hong Kong people that we are not isolated in this fight," Ho said. "We are in the forefront of this great noble fight for universal values."
"I hope that the 2019 Hong Kong Bill of Rights on Human Rights and Democracy can be passed, so as to encourage other countries to adopt similar measures to monitor the human rights situation in China," she said.
She said the protest movement in Hong Kong isn't only about Hong Kong.
"China is destroying universal values [of freedom of speech, human rights, democracy and judicial independence] in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan as well," Ho said. "The Chinese government uses bullying to eliminate the voices of the people."
Fellow activist and former Hong Kong lawmaker Nathan Law called on protesters to take heart from U.S. support.
"This [bill] will keep the United States concerned about the situation in Hong Kong and make them more willing to help Hong Kong people fight for freedom and democracy," he said.
Hong Kong activists had earlier called on lawmakers to ban the export of U.S.-made police equipment to Hong Kong. Many of the thousands of tear gas canisters fired at protesters by Hong Kong police since early June were U.S. imports.
They also called on lawmakers to monitor Chinese efforts to undermine civil liberties in Hong Kong, which was promised the continuation of its political autonomy and traditional freedoms for 50 years after the 1997 handover to China.
In a separate hearing Wednesday at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Assistant Secretary David Stilwell of the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, voiced support for Hong Kong citizens’ freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly and criticized China’s habit of blaming Washington for the events in the territory.
“Protestors in Hong Kong are only asking Beijing to keep its promises made in the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. Beijing has responded by repeatedly blaming the U.S. Government for ‘black hand’ tactics and publically identified U.S. diplomatic personnel, putting them at risk,” he told the panel.
“China has provided no evidence of a ‘black hand behind the protests in Hong Kong, because it doesn’t exist. Hong Kongers took to the streets because Beijing is undermining its own ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework,” added Stilwell.
Reported by Fok Leung-kiu for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Han Jie for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.