With major protests taking place in Hong Kong related to fears of Beijing over-reach, American lawmakers are re-examining the U.S. relationship with Hong Kong—specifically, if Hong Kong should still be considered as autonomous from China.
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner on June 18 praised the Hong Kong people for their courage to fight against the extradition bill, and said he was impressed by the large number of people who came out to protest.
“This is an important voice unified in Hong Kong, against the extradition legislation, pro-freedom voices, and certainly concerns about the crackdown that China has continue to carry out over the past several years,” Gardner said. “They are concerned that if this is what is going to be, then the ideals that China had agree to will have failed.”
The U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act, which was passed in 1992, allows the United States to continue to treat Hong Kong separately from China, after the 1997 handover, on matters concerning trade export and economics control.
Last week, a bill was proposed by Senator Ted Cruz and Ed Markey to amend the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act.
Another bi-partisan bill—the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act—was introduced in both chambers as well. It requires the Secretary of State to issue an annual certification of Hong Kong’s autonomy to justify its special treatment as laid out in the U.S. Hong Kong Policy Act. The Act would also put sanctions on human rights violators.
“We will continue to hold hearings on this, and make sure that we have the appropriate oversight,” Gardner said. “Where changes need to occur in the law, we will. But the United States needs to be an active voice in support of these voices in Hong Kong.”
Policy experts believe that special treatment of Hong Kong based on its status of autonomy is enshrined in the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act, but that this is not necessarily permanent. They say that if the U.S. Congress or government can review it annually based on what happened in Hong Kong, this will send a strong message to Beijing.
Aaron Friedberg, former Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs in the Office of the Vice President said, “It’s intended as a way of sending a signal and exerting some leverage on the mainland to say, if you proceed, if you go against the wishes of this large portion of your population, we may not continue to extend to you these benefits that we have, historically.”
The Spokesperson for the State Department on June 17 also expressed support for the Hong Kong people. Morgan Ortagus, Spokesperson of State Department said, “We continue to call on the Hong Kong government to address the concerns of their public, to consult with local and international stakeholders.”