A bipartisan, bicameral letter from four American lawmakers has been sent to U.S. President Trump, urging the U.S. leader to call out China in the midst of Hong Kong’s ongoing extradition bill crisis.
The letter, dated Aug. 1, was signed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). The letter is posted on Rubio’s website.
Hong Kong Autonomy
They explained that China’s threat to the city’s autonomy stems from a proposed extradition bill, which would affect both Hongkongers and Americans alike, as the bill would make anyone living in or passing through Hong Kong vulnerable to being extradited to the mainland, they said.
Chinese courts are notorious for their disregard of the rule of law. The Chinese Communist Party is known to use the judicial system to silence critics and dissidents by handing out long sentences.
Thus, “the suspended bill poses a direct threat to U.S. security and economic interests as well as the safety of Americans,” the lawmakers stated. “Hong Kong’s governance is not China’s internal affair.”
The bill, first proposed by the Hong Kong government in February, has been indefinitely suspended by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on June 15, following large-scale protests and public condemnation of police use of force in dispersing protesters.
Despite the suspension, Hongkongers have continued to stage rallies and protests, demanding that the bill be fully withdrawn.
“We therefore urge you [Trump] to issue a strong statement condemning Beijing’s efforts to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy [and] endanger U.S. residents of Hong Kong,” the lawmakers stated, noting that China has a legal obligation to abide by the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a treaty signed in 1984 ahead of the territory’s handover from British to Chinese rule, which guarantees Hong Kong’s legal autonomy.
The lawmakers also pointed out the recent trend of violent confrontations between police and demonstrators following peaceful protests. During these clashes, the local police “has repeatedly targeted journalists and needlessly endangered lives through their careless use of non-lethal crowd control equipment.”
The Hong Kong Journalists Association has documented dozens of incidents whereby journalists have been harassed or injured by police while covering protests. In recent weeks, local media have documented incidences of reporters being hit by rubber bullets fired by the police. Rights groups such as Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders have condemned the Hong Kong police for their excessive use of force.
Then on July 21, a violent mob attack at the Yuen Long metro station shocked Hong Kong society. As many protesters were returning home after participating in an earlier march, men in white t-shirts stormed into the station and began attacking passengers with bamboo sticks and metal rods. At least 45 were injured, including Democratic party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting.
The lawmakers condemned the attack, saying the mob was “likely backed by the Chinese Communist Party.”
“Although some arrests were made, Hong Kong police did little to stem the violence or to hold those responsible to account,” the lawmakers added. The police has been widely criticized for arriving at the scene about 40 minutes after the attack occurred. By that time, the attackers had left the station. In recent days, police have arrested suspects, on the charge of unlawful assembly. They have not been charged on violent offenses.
The lawmakers pointed out that a strong U.S. response is needed since Chinese officials have “reportedly made veiled threats to U.S. diplomats and residents of Hong Kong” about possible intervention by the Chinese military stationed in Hong Kong.
During a press conference on July 23, the spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defense made veiled threats of deploying China’s military officially known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), in Hong Kong to “maintain social order,” suggesting that soldiers could be sent in upon a request by Hong Kong leaders.
Then on July 31, the PLA’s garrison stationed in Hong Kong released a video showing soldiers participating in an “anti-riot simulation exercise.”
Troops with shields could be seen firing at an unarmed group of people. In another sign, troops advance while carrying a red sign with the words, “Warning, Stop charging or we use force,” similar to what Hong Kong police have used during protests.
The lawmakers warned that “failure to respond to Beijing’s threats will only encourage Chinese leaders to act with impunity.”
The lawmakers concluded their letter by saying that they are ready to work with Trump, as they have recently introduced the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. The legislation proposes making Hong Kong’s special trading status contingent on the issuance of an annual certification of Hong Kong’s autonomy by the U.S. Secretary of State. A similar bill was introduced back in 2017.
The United States currently treats Hong Kong as a non-sovereign entity that is separate from China on matters of trade and economics. The senators had said passage of Hong Kong’s extradition bill would compel U.S. authorities to reevaluate whether the city would qualify for such status.