U.S. Lawmakers Warn Over 'Alarming' Chinese Interference in Hong Kong

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Protesters march in Hong Kong over possible intervention by Beijing in a dispute over two pro-independence lawmakers, Nov. 2, 2016.
Protesters march in Hong Kong over possible intervention by Beijing in a dispute over two pro-independence lawmakers, Nov. 2, 2016.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party has established a pattern of "alarming" interference in Hong Kong in recent years that could set the pattern for its growing influence in the region, a U.S. congressional panel has warned.

The bipartisan U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission cited the "chilling" abduction and detention of five booksellers based in Hong Kong as well as continuing pressure on media and academic freedoms in the former British colony.

"Hong Kong continues to face pressure on press and academic freedoms guaranteed under its mini constitution, the Basic Law," the commission, which is tasked with monitoring trade and security matters between Washington and Beijing, said.

"Schools in Hong Kong are facing increasing pressure, limiting open debate about democratic ideas and independence," it said, citing the acquisition of the English-language South China Morning Post newspaper as evidence of Beijing's "increasing reach" into the daily life of the city.

Its comments were echoed by former 2014 pro-democracy protest leader Joshua Wong, who at 20 has founded a new political party, Demosisto.

Wong told the Congressional Executive Commission on China, a separate body, this week that the international community has a responsibility to monitor events in Hong Kong, which was promised a high degree of autonomy and the continuation of its existing freedoms under the terms of the 1997 handover.

He said the city's seven million residents "deserve democracy," warning that the city's status as a global financial hub could be affected by recent interventions by Beijing in the city's political life.

"Being a businessman, I hope Donald Trump could know the dynamics in Hong Kong and know that to maintain the business sector benefits in Hong Kong, it's necessary to fully support human rights in Hong Kong to maintain the judicial independence and the rule of law," Wong told the hearing.

He called for amendments to legislation to enshrine human rights and democracy as core values in the U.S. relationship with Hong Kong.

A broader pattern

Meanwhile, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said the undermining of Hong Kong's autonomy is also a blueprint for the way China is starting to function in the region, and further afield.

"[It] reflect[s] a broader pattern of reliance on tools of pressure and coercion—rather than norms, laws, and agreements—to advance its interests vis-a-vis its neighbors," the report said.

"This pattern is also evident in China’s relations with Taiwan and its recent behavior in the South China Sea."

The commission also called for an outright ban on state-owned Chinese enterprises acquiring U.S. companies, citing security concerns.

"Chinese state owned enterprises are arms of the Chinese state," Dennis Shea, chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, told a news conference in Washington on Wednesday.

"We don't want the U.S. government purchasing companies in the United States. Why would we want the Chinese Communist government purchasing companies in the United States?"

Solemn and sincere

Hong Kong's High Court on Tuesday disqualified two pro-independence lawmakers who used their swearing-in ceremony to make a political protest, preventing them from taking up their seats after a high-level intervention from Beijing earlier this month.

Lawmakers-elect Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching both vowed allegiance to the "Hong Kong Nation" and carried banners saying "Hong Kong is not China" when making their oaths on Oct. 12.

They also used a historical slur to refer to China, with Yau inserting swear-words into her oath.

But the standing committee of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), intervened with an interpretation of Hong Kong's miniconstitution last week, ruling that only "solemn and sincere" oaths would be accepted from public office-holders.

There are now concerns that a judicial review into the oaths of six other pro-democracy Legislative Council (LegCo) members could result in their disqualification, weakening any political opposition to the pro-Beijing camp in LegCo.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that Hong Kong was in internal matter for China and that no foreign country has the right to interfere.

He also accused the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission of peddling stereotypes

"We ask that Chinese companies investing abroad abide by local laws and regulations, and we hope that relevant countries will create a level playing field," he told a news briefing in Beijing.

Reported by Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Chen Pan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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