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Lawmakers urge greater US scrutiny on China over Hong Kong

Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution Protests (Pasu Au Yeung/WikiCommons)
September 12, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. Senators have called on the Trump administration to review export controls to prevent China from using Hong Kong to acquire sensitive technology, while other lawmakers are touting legislation that would alter America’s special treatment of the former British colony.

Bipartisan lawmakers, including Jim Risch and Bob Menendez, the Republican chairman and top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Mike Crapo and Sherrod Brown, the chairman and top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, called for a review of export controls in a letter Tuesday to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“We believe it is critical that the United States take appropriate measures to ensure China does not abuse Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law to steal or otherwise acquire critical or sensitive U.S. equipment and technologies in support of its strategic objectives or to infringe on the rights of people in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and elsewhere,” said the letter, which was signed by other senior senators from both parties.

The Senators also voiced concerns over Hong Kong police heavy use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters that have rallied in the city since June, arguing for a suspension of U.S. licenses for the exports of crowd control equipment to Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China.

“In the last several weeks of protests, Hong Kong police have used tear gas extensively to disperse protesters. They have also used rubber bullets (including allegedly at close range) and beat protesters with batons, inconsistent with acceptable norms of treatment of civilians by law enforcement,” the senators wrote.

Protests that erupted in June in Hong Kong against plans by the city’s government to allow extradition to mainland China have grown into a broader movement, even after the city’s chief executive Carrie Lam pledged to scrap the plan.

The protesters five key demands are: the formal withdrawal of planned amendments to extradition laws; an amnesty for arrested protesters; an end to the description of protesters as rioters; an independent inquiry into police abuse of power; and fully democratic elections.

Writing in The Financial Times on Tuesday, Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, noted Lam had withdrawn the bill as “first direct concession to the protesters” but refused to meet other demands.

“Moreover, Beijing views the protests as a national security issue. And it has the final say over how the Hong Kong government responds. More repressive action is likely if a softer response fails. Removing the bill could simply be a bait and switch,” wrote McCarthy.

He pointed to the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a bill introduced in June by Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, co-chairmen of Congressional Executive Commission on China, saying the measure “is supported by many of the protesters in the territory itself.”

The bill “would require the U.S. government to examine whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous to justify its special treatment,” said McCarthy.

The measure would revise current U.S. policy since Britain handed the city to China in 1997 which treats Hong Kong separately from the rest of China in trade, investment, commerce, and immigration – based on Beijing’s pledge to give the territory a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” model.

“As Beijing has expanded its influence over the city, the respect for private property rights and freedom of the press on which that special relationship depends, have been jeopardized,” wrote McCarthy.

The act is the subject of a letter-writing campaign by Hong Kong-based activists and supporters around the world urging U.S. lawmakers to swiftly pass the legislation, which also provides for sanctions against officials deemed responsible for rights abuses in Hong Kong.

“Beijing has violated these solemn commitments by eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy and rule of law since the 1997 handover, especially in recent years,” said the activists’ appeal for signatures for a letter to U.S. Senate and House leaders.

“Over the same period, the Beijing-appointed Hong Kong government has proven unable or unwilling to safeguard Hong Kong’s autonomy,” read the appeal, which received 6,900 signatures as of Wednesday.