Prominent Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong urged U.S. lawmakers Tuesday to support human rights and democracy in the semiautonomous Chinese territory, declaring, "The stakes have never been higher."
Wong's appeal for U.S. support came during testimony at a hearing in Washington before the Congressional Executive Commission on China to review developments in Hong Kong and China's role in the political crisis there.
Wong was joined by Hong Kong celebrity activist Denise Ho, who warned that an erosion of the city's unique status would embolden China if the U.S. does not put pressure on Beijing and support U.S. legislation aimed at defending Hong Kongers' civil rights.
"The U.S. and its allies have everything to fear if they wish to maintain a world that is free, open and civil," Ho said. "I, therefore, urge the U.S. Congress to stand by Hong Kong, and most of all, to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights Democracy Act. This is not a plea for so-called foreign interference. This is a plea for democracy. This is a plea for the freedom to choose."
"If Hong Kong falls, it would easily become the springboard for the totalitarian regime of China to push its rules and priorities overseas, utilizing its economic powers to conform others to their communist values," Ho added.
Wong told lawmakers he is sure historians will view 2019 as a turning point in Hong Kong's quest for human rights.
"I hope historians will celebrate the United States Congress for having stood on the side of Hong Kongers, the side of human rights and democracy."
Hong Kong protesters have rallied outside the U.S. consulate in an effort to garner international support, but U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has maintained a low profile on the issue.
Protests aimed at promoting democracy in the Chinese territory have continued, despite the Hong Kong government's promise to withdraw extradition legislation that sparked protests. Dissenters have since broadened their demands for the direct election of their leaders and police accountability.
The protesters saw the bill that would have allowed some Hong Kong criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial as an example of the erosion of Hong Kong's autonomy since the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.
More than 1,300 people have been arrested since the demonstrations began in early June.
The increasingly violent demonstrations have damaged Hong Kong's economy, which had already been weakened by the reciprocal tariff increases imposed by Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, as the world's two largest economies try to negotiate a new trade agreement. More talks are set for October in Washington.