Nearly two dozen U.S. senators wrote to President Barack Obama Thursday asking him to speak out publicly in support of the people of Hong Kong’s demands for full democracy, as a bipartisan congressional commission moved to revive a provision in U.S. law requiring scrutiny of political reforms in the former British colony.
The senators from both sides of the aisle urged Obama, who is expected to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a Asia-Pacific summit next month, to “take demonstrable, meaningful steps to help ensure that Beijing maintains its commitments to the people of Hong Kong.”
“The people of Hong Kong have sent a strong message to the world that they want the right to choose their leaders to be respected,” Senate President Pro Tempore Patrick Leahy said in a statement amid uncertainty over the semiautonomous Chinese territory’s political future following Beijing’s decision to restrict election reforms.
“The Administration should voice U.S. support for full democracy in Hong Kong and make clear that it is in the Chinese government’s interest to abide by its commitment to ‘one country, two systems,” said the Democratic senator, who is the third in the presidential line of succession.
The action by the senators came as Hong Kong authorities on Thursday scrapped scheduled negotiations with leaders of the pro-democracy “umbrella movement.”
The movement’s student and other leaders have vowed to continue their civil disobedience campaign to back their key demand for public nomination of candidates for Hong Kong chief executive, the city’s top post, in 2017 polls.
China’s rubber stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), ruled on Aug. 31 that candidates should be screened by a mostly pro-Beijing nominating panel, indicating that pro-democracy candidates would be sidelined.
‘Matter of importance’
Aside from Leahy, among the letter’s 21 signatories were Senate Republican Deputy Whip Roger Wicker and Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate.
“The Administration should be speaking out more forcefully on behalf of the people of Hong Kong who are trying to exercise self-determination,” Wicker said.
“This is a matter of importance not only to those people seeking to be free but also to the American people, who share these democratic values. We should not miss this opportunity to be on the right side of history.”
Rubio said the United States needs to stand with the people of the Hong Kong in their effort to achieve full democracy, adding, “Free people around the world need to speak out for those in [the Chinese territory] who want nothing more than the rights they have been promised.”
Also on Thursday, the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China said in its annual report to the Obama administration and Congress that Beijing’s decision to restrict election reforms in Hong Kong “raise concerns about the future of the fragile freedoms and rule of law that distinguish Hong Kong from mainland China.”
The commission, which consists of five senators and seven lawmakers from the House of Representatives as well as five key administration officials, called for the revival of annual reports to Congress on political developments in Hong Kong under a law introduced in 1992, five years before Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule from Britain.
“Members of Congress and the Administration should renew the reporting requirements of Section 301 of the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992,” the commission said, calling for “particular attention to the development of democratic institutions in Hong Kong and China’s obligations under international treaties and agreements.”
The commission’s leaders, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown and Republican Congressman Chris Smith, announced they would spearhead bipartisan legislation to “renew the annual reporting on U.S. interests in Hong Kong.”
“The first thing we want to do is … keep the requirement that we get a report on Hong Kong’s democratic development — that part of the Hong Kong Policy Act [which has] expired,” Brown told a media conference call.
The commission also demanded that U.S. lawmakers and the Obama administration “should increase support for Hong Kong’s democracy through statements and meetings at the highest levels and visits to Hong Kong.”
“Hong Kong issues should be raised in meetings in Beijing with central government officials given their overriding role in deciding questions of Hong Kong’s political development,” it said.
The last visit to Hong Kong by a U.S. secretary of state was by Hillary Clinton in July 2011.
The panel said Beijing’s actions on Hong Kong as well as those on the Internet, media, ethnic minority regions, religion, and civic engagement “suggest that President Xi and his administration may exercise greater control and tolerate less dissent than previous administrations.”