This week, even as protests continue in Hong Kong, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) and a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, doubled down on his proposed “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.”
The protests, which started over a proposed extradition policy that could lead activists in Hong Kong to be deported to mainland China, have resulted in the shutdown of the Hong Kong airport. After months of protests, Hong Kong’s leadership announced on Wednesday it would not pursue the proposed policy.
Rubio first unveiled the proposal, which “would renew the United States’ historical commitment to freedom and democracy in Hong Kong at a time when its autonomy is increasingly under assault,” in November 2016 and brought it back twice since then. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., have been among its chief supporters in the Senate.
Specifically, the proposal would continue following the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 for insisting on democracy and human rights for that city. The legislation would also make the secretary of State issue annual reports on how democratic institutions are faring in Hong Kong and help “Umbrella Movement" activists opposing the communist Chinese regime apply for visas.
“When the British handed over Hong Kong to the Chinese twenty years ago this June, Beijing promised Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy guaranteed under Basic Law,” Rubio said when he brought in back in 2017. “However, in recent years, Beijing has consistently undermined the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and infringed on the democratic freedoms the residents of Hong Kong are supposed to be guaranteed. China’s assault on democratic institutions and human rights is of central importance to the people of Hong Kong and to its status as a free market, economic powerhouse and hub for international trade and investment. The importance of this legislation was further impressed upon me late last year after meeting with pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who became the face of the Umbrella Movement for many in late 2014. Joshua is an impressive and thoughtful young man who, along with his fellow activists, represents the future of Hong Kong — a future that must not go the way of Beijing’s failed authoritarianism and one-party rule. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act reaffirms America’s support of the people of Hong Kong as they seek to oppose Beijing’s efforts to erode democratic institutions.”
Before tensions abetted on Wednesday, Rubio weighed in with a piece published at the Washington Post on Tuesday and he stressed his opposition to the communist regime leading China.
“By choosing violence and intimidation to silence Hong Kong, the Chinese Communist Party is once again showing its true nature. Beijing recently reinforced its People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong with thousands of troops and authorized a new wave of arrests to intimidate peaceful demonstrators. In parallel, it reportedly blocked the Hong Kong government’s proposal to work out a compromise with the city’s massive and grassroots pro-democracy movement,” Rubio wrote.
“What began as a protest against an unjust extradition bill backed by China has now become a fight for Hong Kong’s autonomy and future. Yet what’s happening in Hong Kong is not simply China’s internal affair. The United States and other responsible nations are not watching from the sidelines,” Rubio added. “The extradition bill is only the latest example of China’s many broken promises to the Hong Kong people and the world. Most obviously, the Chinese Communist Party is preventing the city’s government from acting with the autonomy that Beijing had promised it in a legally binding 1984 international treaty with Britain, under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, and in China’s diplomatic outreach to the United States and other nations.”
Rubio also stressed America’s and the rest of the world’s ties to Hong Kong.
“The world ignores these warning signals at the peril of the Hong Kong people and the hundreds of thousands of foreigners — including roughly 85,000 U.S. citizens — living in the city. China’s leaders today are using the same messaging playbook that they have followed since they intervened in North Korea in 1950. We were surprised then; we should be prepared now,” Rubio wrote.
“The United States and the international community must make clear to Chinese leaders and power brokers that their aggression toward Hong Kong risks swift, severe and lasting consequences,” he added. “In particular, the administration should make clear that the United States can respond flexibly and robustly in Hong Kong. Our options are much more than just a ‘nuclear option’ of ending Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law.”
Rubio also offered other advice for the Trump administration, including backing his proposal.
“The administration also can impose sanctions against individual officials who have committed serious human rights abuses under the Global Magnitsky Act, which enables sanctions against foreign individuals or entities. In addition, Congress should pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a bill that I co-authored with Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), James E. Risch (R-Idaho) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). The bill, among other things, would mandate that officials in China and Hong Kong who have undermined the city’s autonomy are vulnerable to such sanctions,” Rubio wrote.
“China’s leaders must either respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and rule of law or know that their escalating aggression will inexorably lead them to face swift, severe and lasting consequences from the United States and the world. Today, that choice is theirs,” Rubio insisted.
Rubio weighed in on Wednesday on the extradition proposal being pulled.
“Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s long-overdue withdrawal of the extradition bill is a welcome but insufficient step after the government’s violent response to the Hong Kong people’s desire to protect their democratic freedoms,” Rubio said. “The Chinese Communist Party should uphold its commitments to Hong Kong’s autonomy and stop aggravating the situation with threats of violence.”
Increasingly, Rubio is getting active on Asian affairs. Besides leading the CECC, Rubio sits on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, the Senate Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism Subcommittee and on the East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy Subcommittee.