Thousands of Hongkongers rallied this week to show support for the US Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, up for vote in Congress as early as this week. The Act, if passed, would require the U.S. to annually review Hong Kong's special economic status and impose sanctions on officials who undermine its autonomy — a move that could further complicate the US’ trade war with China, and overall relations between the world’s two largest economies.
Organizers expected 2,000 people to show up for the first legally permitted rally in 10 days, aimed at seeking U.S. support for Hong Kong’s reform movement.
They got many, many, many more.
Thousands of people poured into a small square in central Hong Kong Monday night to show their support for the U.S. Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. The bill would require the U.S. to annually review Hong Kong’s special economic status and would allow sanctions on figures who are deemed to be “suppressing basic freedoms” in the Chinese region, which has its own laws and systems separate from the mainland.
Attendee Ken Yu said this struggle goes well beyond the 1,000-square mile territory, which was under British rule until it was handed back to the Chinese in 1997.
“It’s time for the world to react, because this is not only a fight for Hong Kong people, it’s a fight for the whole world, it’s a fight for democracy and freedom. And that’s what the Americans stand for,” he said.
China promised a 50-year “one country, two systems” policy that many activists feel it has not honored. This anonymous rally goer said it falls to the US to enforce China’s promise.
“They’ve been taking care of the whole world, they are the world police. I think they should do their job, just to make peace for the whole world.”
An 18-year-old student who spoke onstage at the rally said the U.S. bill “will be the most powerful weapon we have so far against the Chinese communists.” He declined to give his name, for fear of retaliation by the Hong Kong government.
But critics say the bill could cause more harm than good amid an intensifying trade war between the U.S. and China. And pro-Beijing officials in Hong Kong, who could be targeted for sanctions under the act, see it as unwarranted interference in Hong Kong’s autonomy.
President Donald Trump has downplayed the democracy protests in Hong Kong while emphasizing resolving difficult trade talks with China.
The bill has bipartisan support and could go to a vote as early as this week. Two Republican senators visited Hong Kong over the weekend to express their support, including Republican Josh Hawley of Missouri.
“Sometimes the fate of one city defines a challenge of a whole generation. 50 years ago it was Berlin," he said. "Today, it’s Hong Kong. The free people of the world are standing with you, so we can all say, we are HongKongers now.”
Every weekend since June, residents of this Asian economic hub have jammed the streets to demand reform. Protesters feel Beijing is tightening its grip over the city and limiting freedoms.
Recent protests have resulted in clashes between police and protesters, and provoked condemnation from pro-Beijing officials, who call the emboldened protesters “terrorists.”
This year’s protests started over a now-withdrawn extradition bill, but evolved to five main demands for greater freedoms and civil liberties.
But China is not budging. On a visit this week to Nepal, Chinese President Xi Jinping Said anyone attempting to split China “will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones.”
But these determined Hong Kongers seem undeterred by that threat, leaving this dense city of 7.4 million people caught between two superpowers.