Hong Kong Law & Crime Politics & Protest

Hong Kong activists Denise Ho and Joshua Wong testify at US congressional hearing on protests

Hong Kong activists are testifying at the United States’ Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) in Washington DC about the ongoing protests in the city.

The congressional hearing will examine the future of US-Hong Kong relations and hear first-hand testimonies from witnesses, including Secretary-General of Demosistō Joshua Wong, singer-activist Denise Ho, Hong Kong Higher Education International Affairs Delegation spokesperson Sunny Cheung, Executive Director of Human Rights in China Sharon Hom, and author Dan Garrett. The witnesses will then offer recommendations for the US.

Sharon Hom, Denise Ho, Sunny Cheung, Joshua Wong and Dan Garrett.

Sharon Hom, Denise Ho, Sunny Cheung, Joshua Wong and Dan Garrett.

Hong Kong has been rocked by 15 consecutive weeks of protests, sparked by a now-soon-to-be-withdrawn extradition bill, which would have allowed case-by-case fugitive transfers to China. However, large-scale peaceful protests have morphed into sometimes violent displays of dissent over Beijing’s encroachment and alleged police brutality.

Sunday’s hearing comes as Washington prepares to debate the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, re-introduced to the House of Representatives and the Senate in June. Under the 1992 United States-Hong Kong Policy Act, the city enjoys special trade and economic privileges⁠. But the new draft law would require the US to assess whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous to continue enjoying such benefits.

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio. Photo: Gage Skidmore, via Flickr.

In an exclusive interview over email with HKFP, Senator Marco Rubio—Cochair of the CECC—said he was optimistic the bill will pass. He added that the reintroduction of the draft law was unrelated to the ongoing economic dispute between Washington and Beijing.

“The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is intended to give the administration more tools to use under a broader range of circumstances, he said. “The administration needs this legislation regardless of the trade war, and Congress would be doing this regardless of a trade dispute with Beijing.”

When asked which officials he thinks would be targeted by the Act, if passed, Rubio declined to specify.

“The people of Hong Kong have taken to the streets precisely because Beijing continues to break that very promise and erode Hong Kong’s autonomy,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that [the] Chinese Communist Party rhetoric is coming from the Chief Executive of a city that prides itself on its civic freedoms and rule of law.”

In full: Joshua Wong statement - Click to view

Good morning Chairman McGovern, Co-Chairman Rubio, and members of this Commission:

It’s an honour to be invited back to Capitol Hill to speak about developments in Hong Kong. You may recall that I last travelled to Washington more than two years ago and testified before this commission, in this same building, on May 3, 2017.

At the time, I warned about the probable disqualification of my friend Nathan Law, who had been Asia’s youngest democratically-elected legislator and who is in the audience this morning. I also warned about massive political prosecution. Unfortunately, both materialised: Nathan lost his seat that July, and we were both imprisoned in August for our roles in the Umbrella Movement. Further legal troublers in relation to the 2014 protests prevented me from travelling abroad.

While I said then that Hong Kong’s One Country, Two Systems was becoming One Country, One-and-a-Half Systems, I don’t think there is any doubt among observers who have followed recent events that, today, we are approaching dangerously close to One Country, One System. The present state of affairs reveals Beijing’s utter inability to understand, let alone govern, a free society.

The ongoing demonstrations began on June 9 when one million Hong Kongers took to the streets in protest of proposed legislation that would’ve allowed criminal suspects to be extradited from Hong Kong to China, where there are no guarantees of the rule of law. Still, before the night had even ended, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the bill’s reading would resume in three days. Hongkongers were bracing for their last fight on June 12.

And then the unthinkable happened: Knowing that Beijing controlled enough votes in the Legislative Council, protesters surrounded the complex early in the morning, successfully preventing lawmakers from convening. I was then serving my third jail sentence. For a moment, I wondered why the news channel was replaying footage of the Umbrella Movement, though it was not long before I realised Hong Kongers were back. Lam suspended the bill on June 15, but fell short of fully withdrawing it. A historic two million people demonstrated the following day, equivalent to one in four out of our entire population. I’m not aware of anything comparable to this level of discontent against a government in modern history.

I was released exactly three months ago, on June 17, and have since joined fellow Hongkongers to protest in the most creative ways possible. In addition to the bill’s withdrawal, we demanded Lam to retract the characterisation of us as “rioters,” drop all political charges, and establish an independent investigation into police brutality. Some of us crowdfunded for newspaper advertisements ahead of the G-20 summit in late June calling for the world not to neglect Hong Kong. Others broke into and occupied the Legislative Council complex on July 1, the same day another 550,000 Hong Kongers protested peacefully.

Crowds continued to show up in large numbers every weekend, with smaller rallies taking place almost daily across the territory. But the government would not listen; instead of defusing the political crisis, it dramatically empowered the police. The movement reached a turning point on July 21. That night, thugs with suspected ties to organised crime gathered in the Yuen Long train station and indiscriminately attacked not just protesters returning home, reporters on the scene, but even passersby. The police refused to show up despite repeated emergency calls, plunging Hong Kong into a state of anarchy and mob violence.

On August 5 alone, the day Hong Kongers participated in a general strike, the police shot 800 canisters of tear gas to disperse the masses. Compare that to only 87 fired in the entire Umbrella
Movement five years ago, and the police’s excessive force today is clear. Their increasingly liberal use of pepper spray, pepper balls, rubber bullets, sponge bullets, bean bag rounds, and water cannons—almost all of which are imported from Western democracies—are no less troubling. In light of this, I applaud Chairman McGovern for introducing the PROTECT Hong Kong Act last week in the House of Representatives. American companies mustn’t profit from the violent crackdown of freedom-loving Hongkongers.

Co-Chairman Rubio is also right for recently writing that “Hong Kong’s special status,” under American law, “depends on the city being treated as a separate customs area, on open international financial connections, and on the Hong Kong dollar’s peg to the US dollar.” Beijing shouldn’t have it both ways, reaping all the economic benefits of Hong Kong’s standing in the world while eradicating our sociopolitical identity. This is the most important reason why the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act enjoys the broad support of Hong Kong’s civil society, a point which I want every member of Congress to take note.

Lam finally withdrew the bill earlier this month, but just as protesters have long stopped calling for her resignation, this decision was almost meaningless by now. The movement is far from over, because it has long moved beyond one bill or one person. Our fifth and most important demand is genuine structural change in Hong Kong. Our government’s lack of representation lies at the heart of the matter.

As I speak, Hong Kong is standing at a critical juncture. The stakes have never been higher. Authorities have all but stopped issuing permits known as “letters of no objection,” so virtually every demonstration is an “illegal assembly.” Moreover, we are confronted by the huge Chinese military buildup just across the border in Shenzhen. President Xi Jinping is unlikely to take bold action before the upcoming 70th National Day in October, but no one can be sure what’s next. Sending in the tanks remains irrational, though not impossible. Chinese interference in Macau, Taiwan, Tibet, and especially Xinjiang, serves as a reminder that Beijing is prepared to go far in pursuit of its grand imperial project.

I was once the face of Hong Kong’s youth activism. In the present leaderless movement, however, my sacrifices are minimal, compared to those among us who have been laid off for protesting, who have been injured but too afraid of even going to a hospital, or who have been forced to take their own lives. Two have each lost an eye. The youngest of the 1,400 arrested so far is only 12-year-old schoolboy. I don’t know them, yet their pain is my pain. We belong to the same imagined community, struggling for our right of self-determination so we can build one brighter, common future.

A baby born today will not even have celebrated his 28th birthday by July 1, 2047, when Hong Kong’s policy of “50-year no change” is set to expire. That deadline is closer to us than it appears; there’s no return. Decades from now, when historians look back, I’m sure that 2019, much more so than 2014, will turn out to have been a watershed. I hope, too, that historians will celebrate the United States Congress for having stood on the side of Hongkongers, the side of human rights and democracy.

In full: Denise Ho statement - Click to view

Thank you, Chairman McGovern, Co-Chairman Rubio and members of this Commission for holding this hearing, and for having us here at this very critical time of Hong Kong.

We hope that our personal accounts will be helpful in your deliberations on what the United States Congress and American people can do to help the Hong Kong people in face of the erosion of our liberties and autonomy.

For more than 100 days now, the Hong Kong youth has led our city into the historical fight of our times. It is a leaderless movement, with widespread participation from people of all walks of life. It is a fight for democracy, a fight for human rights, and most of all, a fight for universal values and freedoms.

What started out as a [million-strong] march against an extradition bill, morphed into a determined fight for fundamental political reform in Hong Kong. Misjudgments and arrogance on behalf of Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive Officer of Hong Kong, resulted in a total clampdown of the Beijing government over Hong Kong affairs, at the same time surfacing the reluctance of both governments in fully implementing the One country, Two systems in Hong Kong.

With Carrie Lam hiding behind the police force for months, refusing to resolve political issues with sincerity, she has given police full authority to suppress the protests at all costs.

Since June, the Hong Kong police has shown excessive brutality in their use of force, arresting and beating up peaceful protesters heavily at uncountable occasions. More than 1400 people have been arrested up to date, with even more (including journalists, first aiders and social workers) severely injured by tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, and the police’s indiscriminate use of batons. On a personal note, It has been extremely difficult to be away from home and to watch the people safeguard the city from afar, especially in the past weekend where we have seen police behaviour getting out of control.

Sadly, it has become a common daily scene to see youngsters being pinned to the ground, with bleeding head concussions and some even knocked unconscious, but still refused medical care by the police.

Riot police and plainclothes officers have shown no restraint while performing their duties. From the early weeks, they have deliberately hidden their ID numbers, refused to show warrant cards even on request, therefore making it impossible for citizens to verify the legitimacy of plainclothes officers, nor to hold any police officer accountable for their violations.

Last month, a university student in possession of ten laser pointers has been arrested and detained for 48 hours. A first aider was shot in the eye by a bean bag round dispersed from above head level, risking permanent loss of sight. On August 31st, police from the Special Tactical Unit charged into Prince Edward MTR station, beating up passengers randomly. Consequently, they shut down the station for 24 hours, refusing medical care for those who were injured, raising suspicion of possible death in the station. They have recently charged into secondary schoolyards, shopping malls and on buses, where young people merely dressed in black clothing could be searched or even arrested without justified reasons.

In short, in our Hong Kong today, being young is the crime. We are now officially a police state, where people live in constant fear of political repercussions. In addition, on 21st July, in an infamous mob attack that occurred in the Yuen Long MTR station, where a white shirt clad attacked civilians indiscriminately, the police failed to arrive in a timely manner, making their appearance only 39 minutes after the incident, despite hundreds of emergency calls for help. Similar situations occurred later in the protests, where police would give favourable treatment to mobs and pro-Beijing supporters, helping them leave the sites after having attacked protesters, showing clear and continuous collusion between police and triad members.

On August 11th, police obstructed pro bono lawyers from providing legal assistance to arrested protesters in the Sun Uk Ling Holding Center, violating the legal rights of 54 persons. There were also claims from female protesters of sexual harassment inside of the police station, and of physical abuses on numerous occasions.

Since July, more than thirty “no objection applications” for rallies and marches have been systematically denied, including the 1.7 million ppl rally on 18th August, where protesters gathered and marched peacefully despite the ban. According to Hong Kong Basic Law and international standards, Hong Kong residents have the freedom of assembly and demonstration, where [a] peaceful public assembly is a legitimate use of public space. By banning the assemblies, the Hong Kong government is violating the people’s right to peacefully protest.

With police violations accumulating by the day, Hong Kong people have been demanding for an independent investigative council to be formed. The Chief Executive Carrie Lam has refused to do so, claiming we have “a well-established (IPCC), set up for exactly this purpose”. This existing watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, is in fact entirely appointed by the CE herself, has no legal power to summon witnesses nor to force the police to provide sufficient documents, therefore is powerless in bringing justice to the situation.

On its front, it all started with an extradition bill. But at the core, it has always been about fundamental conflicts between these two very different set of values: on one side, the China model, which has no respect over human rights and rule of law, and demands for their people’s submission. And the other, a hybrid city that has enjoyed these freedoms for the most of its existence, with a deep attachment to these universal values that the United States and other western societies are also endeared to.

Unfortunately, with the rise of the present iron regime of Xi Jin Ping, the One Country, Two Systems is racing towards its death.

Hong Kong represents something very unique in the world. As a crossroads that is strongly rooted in its own Asian cultures, and yet has come to be known for its values and of the rule of law, transparent institutions, and freedom of information and expression. We represent the hope that as nations develop, they will evolve towards these universal values which protect individuals everywhere.

These protections are why over 1500 multinational companies have chosen to place their regional headquarters in Hong Kong, the biggest proportion of these by country, from the United States. Hong Kong has become one of the most globally interconnected, financially important trading economies in the world, helping bring countries closer together through finance and today, the flow of data, goods, ideas, culture and people.

However, this system is now under threat like never before. Companies such as Hong Kong’s major airline Cathay Pacific, has succumbed to political pressure, firing dozens of employees due to their political stance, some only over a mere facebook post. Business people are coerced into making political decisions. MTR Corporation, our subway system, has deliberately shut down stations during rallies and marches due to pressure from a state newspaper, resulting in more than hundreds of arrests and unnecessary injuries.

As a singer and activist from Hong Kong, I have experienced the suppression first hand. Ever since the Umbrella Movement in 2014, I have been blacklisted by the communist government. My songs and my name are censored on [the] Chinese internet, and I have been called out several times by state newspapers. Pressured by the Chinese government, sponsors have pulled out, even international brands have kept their distances in fear of being associated with me. For the past five years, and even more so recently, China tried to silence me with their propaganda machines and smearing campaigns, making claims that are completely false. Right now, I am facing threats from the communist government, pro-Beijing supporters, and could face arrest and prosecution at any time.

Not only have I faced increased difficulties in continuing my singing career in China and Hong Kong, but the self-censorship has now spread towards global institutions and cities. Recently, the National Gallery of Victory in Melbourne, Australia, denied a venue to [a] collaborative event of Chinese artist Badiucao and myself, due to “security concerns.” The 2019 gay pride in Montreal, Canada, banned Hong Kong activists due to similar reasons. Celebrities from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China are all pressured into taking a political stance, voicing their unanimous “support” for the Beijing government on social media, and could be condemned for keeping their silence. Even the songwriter of the new unofficial ‘anthem” for Hong Kong, has opted to stay anonymous, in fear of future reprisal.

Hongkongers are now living in constant fear, and have unfortunately lost the most part of our freedoms. For a city that has been infamously known as politically indifferent, the younger generations have [taken] up the role to safeguard our home, standing up courageously to the corrupted system, in spite of increased and ruthless suppression. They have awakened other Hong Kong people, and together we have taken the world by surprise with our continued fight.

To the rest of the world, the United States is often a symbol of freedom and democracy.

The freedom Americans enjoy is something the people of Hong Kong have long hoped for. Even though our languages and cultures differ, what we have in common is the pursuit of justice, freedom, and democracy.

Through the challenges of Hong Kong, the West is waking up to China’s insinuating power [on] a global scale. Hong Kong is connected to the world in multiple ways (institutional, social, economic, personal), but China is trying to isolate it to exert control. If Hong Kong falls, it would easily become the springboard for the totalitarian regime of China to push its rules and priorities overseas, utilising its economic powers to conform others to their communist values, just as they have done with Hong Kong in the past 22 years. The US and its allies have everything to fear if they wish to maintain a world that is free, open, and civil.

I therefore urge the US Congress to stand by Hong Kong, and most of all, to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. This is not a plea for the so-called “foreign interference,” nor for Hong Kong independence.

This is a plea for universal human rights.

This is a plea for democracy.

This is a plea for the freedom to choose.

And lastly, may I quote Eleanor Roosevelt, your most beloved [former] First Lady :

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'”

This is a global fight for the universal values that we all cherish, and Hong Kong is in the very frontlines of this fight. We were once fearful of what might come with our silence, and for that, we have now become fearless.

In full: Sunny Cheung statement - Click to view

My name is Sunny Cheung. I am the spokesperson of the Hong Kong Higher Institutions International Affairs Delegation (HKIAD), a group which represents over 100,000 students from all students’ unions in Hong Kong. We aim to garner international support through raising concerns and awareness with the international community. Our mission is to mobilise support for the US Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. In August, we held a peaceful rally in central Hong Kong in August. Over 60,000 people attended to communicate their support for the Act. Currently, we are deeply involved in organising a large-scale class boycott to put pressure on the government.

Background to the current protest movement: The Umbrella Movement and Hong Kong identity

The 2014 Umbrella Movement was a watershed moment in Hong Kong’s story. Hundreds of thousands demonstrated and protested for democracy, but the government granted us nothing but prosecution. We lost hope and realised Beijing would not grant Hong Kong democracy as promised.

Under the One Country, Two Systems blueprint, Hong Kong has gradually become more and more like China. The grand plan and ambition of the Greater Bay Area project is to completely erase our identity as Hongkongers. Hong Kong could become just another city in China. The “Two Systems” framework has not been able to defend us from prosecution under harsh and unfair laws.

But the younger generation will not accept Beijing’s cultural invasion. Hong Kong has 177 years of history since 1842, for almost all of which Hong Kong was separate from China and developed its own unique culture and identity. Freedom and the rule of law are our core values. Culturally, Hong Kong is different from China. We consider ourselves as Hongkongers rather than Chinese. A recent survey conducted by the Hong Kong University found that only 11 per cent of respondents sees themselves as pure Chinese. We want so much to preserve our local language, Cantonese, and also our Traditional Chinese Characters in written Chinese which are different from the simplified version used in China.

Anti-Extradition Protest and Five Demands

Hong Kong’s extradition law protests began as a protest against amendments to the city’s extradition legislation which could have marked the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy. The Hong Kong government was trying to change the legislation so that it would become legal to extradite people to mainland China. China’s courts have no independence, and this move would have permanently compromised Hong Kong’s rule of law and autonomy which are protected under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the One Country, Two Systems principle.

On 9 June 2019, 1 million people took to the street to say “no” to the extradition law. Carrie Lam ignored our cry. Students have played a major role although this movement is leaderless. On 12 June 2019, hundreds of thousands of us occupied the streets. The police committed appalling brutality, firing rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protestors. Among them were lots of students including high school students. Carrie Lam was forced to “suspend” the bill. On 16 June 2019, 2 million people marched to ask for a full withdrawal of the extradition bill, an independent inquiry into police brutality, and the retraction of rioting charges.

The government said no to these reasonable demands, despite calls from senior judges and business leaders. They could have defused the situation then, but they chose not to. The scene was set for months of protest. A dozen young people jumped to their death to protest. Many students, take to the streets leaving behind a note of last wishes as they prepare to die for Hong Kong in each protest. This is the fight for freedom and democracy. We do it because we love our city.

The Police force was instructed to stamp out the protests by force. Instead of intimidating the brave people of Hong Kong, their actions have strengthened our resolve. The people of Hong Kong drew up five demands which have been at the core of the protests since June. They are:

  • The complete withdrawal of the extradition bill from the legislative process.
  • The retraction of the “riot” characterisation.
  • The release and exoneration of arrested protesters.
  • An independent inquiry into the police brutality.
  • The universal suffrage of the city’s leadership and the parliament.

In September Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive finally agreed to propose the withdrawal in the city’s Legislative Council. But this is too little, too late, particularly after months of police violence.

Police Brutality

What is now driving the protests is the ongoing violent actions of the police. Beijing has given the Hong Kong Police force complete free rein, and their actions have horrified the Hong Kong public. Their actions include randomly firing tear gas to the general public and journalists, firing tear gas inside train stations, shooting rubber bullets to the heads, as well as the mistreatment and torture of detainees. This has led to a collapse of trust in the government and the police force. Compromise will not be possible until the government calls an independent inquiry into police brutality.

There have been multiple horrifying events. The events of 21 July 2019 were a key turning point. White-shirted members of triad gangs entered Yuen Long MTR station carrying wooden sticks and beat up civilians, journalists, protestors returning home, and the lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting. Lam’s arm was [injured], and many were hospitalised including a number of journalists. The images were broadcast throughout Hong Kong.

The police did not respond to emergency phone calls for the first forty-five minutes and failed to stop the gang members or arrest anyone that evening. Images appeared of members of the mob standing alongside police officers earlier in the evening, holding the sticks they later used to attack protestors. Police inaction has granted impunity to these thugs who now routinely attack protestors and civilians. Another awful evening was the 31 August 2019, when the police indiscriminately attacked civilians in the Prince Edward MTR station. One of the victims was a representative of HKIAD. On that traumatic and horrifying night, he was wearing a suit and passing through the Prince Edward train station. Yet, with the blockade created by the police, countless innocent civilians were trapped and the press was ordered to leave the scene without justification. He was outflanked on an escalator alongside a group of innocent civilians, who were just trying to get safe passage out of the station, which had become a hunting ground for the police. Then the passengers were insulted, arrested, struck, and stepped on by the police with batons and shields. They arrested them despite knowing they were innocent.

Besides, we students’ union members frequently received threatening letters targeting us and our family that we would soon be killed. The threat against Students’ Unions leaders is real and common.

The Chair of the Hong Kong University Students’ Union has resigned and fled the city after he was beaten violently. There is a collapse of trust in the government and the police force. Compromise will not be possible until the government calls an independent inquiry into police brutality.

Why does Hong Kong matter? Asia’s prominent world city is dying.

Hong Kong’s story matters. Hong Kong is one of the world’s top international financial centres and one of Asia’s few liberal cities. Our people care about freedom and democracy, we disprove the lie that Asian cities cannot have democratic values.

This is particularly true for young people. We will not compromise our dignity, freedom and democracy for superficial prosperity. How we see our future and the meaning of life is different from the older generation. The older generation especially those who are now ministers in the government and leaders of businesses, see [a] material gain as the ultimate goal and success in life. But in Hong Kong prosperity is only for the few. Twenty-two years after the change-over of sovereignty, we have to wake up to the fact that we cannot compromise our dignity and freedom for the sake of stability and prosperity for the rich and those who are in power.

Over one million Hongkongers are living below the poverty line. Inequality in Hong Kong is at extreme levels for a developed country and getting worse. An Oxfam report last year found that the median monthly income of the top decile of the population was 44 times higher than the lowest decile in 2016, up from 34 times in 2006. Hong Kong people live in some of the smallest apartments in the world because the government controls the supply of land and releases it slowly, in the interests of developers rather than the population.

Our system is corrupt because we do not have democracy as promised in the Basic Law. We cannot vote for our leader, and the Legislative Council is rigged by a functional constituency system which means that big businesses and vested interests decide who represents 50 per cent of the seats. Successive Chief Executives have done dirty backroom deals with property tycoons to keep home prices artificially high. Democracy is and will be one of our core demands for this reason.

Hong Kong is on the frontline of the battle for freedom and against authoritarian China.

Since joining the World Trade Organisation, China has been utilising the benefits of free trade to consolidate its authoritarian governance. The rise of an authoritarian China puts liberal democratic values in danger.

Domestically, Communist Party suppresses activists in Hong Kong and Mainland China. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in Xinjiang, where the Chinese authorities have built concentration camps
and subject ethnic minorities to mass surveillance, torture, killings and arbitrary arrests. On this subject, UN decried China as [a] shameful country last year.

Globally, under China’s money diplomacy tactic, many small countries have already been compromised and lost their control over the local society such as Sri Lanka has to lease a strategic port to China for 99-years. Scholars describe this phenomenon as economic colonialism and new imperialism. It is crystal clear that China is using their economic dominance to penetrate foreign societies, business sectors, political parties and universities to gather intelligence and thereby undermining their autonomy. Fortunately, several countries have woken up to this reality finally realise how China intends to negatively impact the world. One year ago, Canada started to shut down the Confucius Institutes, stopping China to preach their propaganda to affect youths in Canada. Australia parliament also ratified amendments to their national security law to prohibit foreign interference targeting China apparently.

Over the past few months, Hong Kong people have demonstrated to the world that we believe in democracy and liberty, even though we face a harsh crackdown from the Chinese Communist Party regime. Hong Kong is an international city, China has benefited from its special customs status, 70 per cent of foreign investment in China comes through Hong Kong. China utilises Hong Kong to do illegal trading with North Korea and Iran and even purchases weapons from European countries which should have weapon embargo on China. Therefore, international powers also have a say in the city’s future. Hong Kong is at the frontline of the battle against authoritarianism. It is vital that the United States work with like-minded countries to ensure that the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong’s people are protected.

Our call: Pass the Human Rights and Democracy Act, 2019

This is why we are calling for the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act to be passed. The legislation provides critical strengthening to the Hong Kong Policy Act which will act to place the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong’s people at the heart of US-Hong Kong policy. Also, we hope the US government can protect Hong Kong people who unfortunately have the criminal record due to the participation in protests in Hong Kong. We hope the US government can still grant visas to them, through a regular routine if they tend to study or work in the States. It is because[ the] Hong Kong government intentionally prosecutes protestors with ancient and colonial law which is the Public Order Ordinance. With this law, Hong Kong people can be easily convicted as guilty even they do not necessarily participate in a protest. We sincerely ask for you all to ensure that people who have taken part in protests are not barred from receiving visas to the US.

Lastly, we hope the US government can keep up the good work to monitor the rise of an authoritarian China. The invasive economic dominance, reprehensible communist ideologies and deteriorating human situation of China should be deeply concerned by the US government. 50 years ago, US President Truman famously gave a speech which is the Truman Doctrine. He warned American and the world that the danger of communism was real. He argued that it was the responsibility of the US to support the free world. 50 years later, Communist China poses a threat to international peace and world liberal system. Hong Kong is now at the frontline in the battle against totalitarianism. We never hesitate to take every step, with the last inch of our effort, to fight for freedom. The grandest of our ideals is an unfolding promise since the last world war that each human being deserves a chance to live with dignity and to live for liberty. Hong Kong is in a critical moment in its history. We are calling for the US to stand with us in our fight for freedom, democracy and dignity. Thank you.

In full: Sharon Hom statement - Click to view

Chairman McGovern, Co-Chairman Rubio, and Members of the Commission,

Thank you for this hearing opportunity. It is an honour for me to stand in solidarity with the frontline activists. I want to thank the Commission members for their critical support for the Hong Kong people and leadership on the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and the Protect Hong Kong Act.

Over the past three months, the whole world has witnessed a historic David and Goliath standoff. Against all odds, the Hong Kong people are standing up to the powerful, authoritarian regime in Beijing. In this historic battle, they are not only fighting for the democratic future of 7.4 million Hong Kong people, but they also held the regional and global frontline on preserving human dignity and rights for all people.

The past “summer of discontent” is, in fact, part of years of ongoing resistance by Hong Kong people against Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy, rights, and freedoms. This peaceful resistance has included mass demonstrations against the proposed Article 23 security legislation (2003), against official brainwashing of the so-called patriotic education (2012), and against the gutting of promises of genuine universal suffrage (2014). After the clearance of the Occupy Central sites in December 2014, democracy activists left a promise inscribed on the concrete sidewalks—we will return. They have kept that promise.

Instead of Beijing’s hoped-for movement fatigue, the protests are moving into the 15th week pressing, for now, five non-negotiable demands, supported by unflagging solidarity and broad participation of diverse sectors of Hong Kong society. The out-of-control lawless actions of the Hong Kong police have only provided mobilisation fuel for Hong Kong people to “add oil.”

As Chairman Mao said: “Wherever there is suppression, there will be resistance!”. The Communist Party of China leadership understands and fears this, as highlighted by Xi Jinping’s ramped up the invocation of Cultural Revolution “struggle” (dou zheng) terminology.

What actions can the international community and, specifically the US government, take to further support Hong Kong people in what will clearly be a long struggle?

We need to first address the tensions that were baked into the One Country, Two Systems framework, perhaps making One Country into One System an inevitable outcome. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen’s takeaway from the current political crisis in Hong Kong hits the nail on the head—not only is One Country, Two Systems not a viable model for Taiwan, but the Hong Kong example proves that dictatorship and democracy cannot co-exist.

Rule of law and why it matters

An independent functioning rule of law is essential to protecting rights and preserving Hong Kong’s promised autonomy. However, glaring rule of law deficits in the mainland “rule the country by law” approach (aside from the obvious fact it is not a rule of law) have implications for Hong Kong’s rule of law.

  • First, the mainland Chinese state Constitution and numerous high-level policy pronouncements legitimise the principle that subordinates law to the leadership of the Party. Anyone who challenges or is perceived to challenge the Party’s leadership or disagrees with its policies or criticises “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” (now also enshrined in the state Constitution) runs the risk of criminal prosecution, including for inciting subversion or subversion of state power that carries potential heavy prison sentences. The reintroduction of Article 23 security legislation in Hong Kong will inevitably carry the imprints of the Party’s concept of national security. Notwithstanding the fact that independence is clearly not one of the five demands of the protests, Beijing’s invocation of terrorism, splittism, and separatism (China’s “three evils’ approach”) are also building a foundation for the reintroduction of Article 23 security legislation.
  • Second, the demand for complete loyalty to the Party from not only Party members, but also from judges, lawyers, teachers, media workers, and every sector of society, guts the independence of the legal profession and media—two key pillars for ensuring a rule of law. But Hong Kong is not the mainland—yet. Despite efforts like the proposed Hong Kong national anthem law and forced loyalty requirements, loyalty, pride, and love cannot be legislated.
  • Third, the Party has expanded its control beyond the administrative branch (where Party committees are already installed in government organs at all levels) to the legislative and judicial organs. Most recently, on September 10, 2019, a Central Inspection Group of the Party announced that in addition to its inspection tours of the Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and Ministry of Justice, it would also work inside the SPC, SPP, and MOJ for two months. Party control of Hong Kong via the Macao Hong Kong Liasion offices is now more direct and public. It is not surprising then that Hong Kong people, foreign business and the international community were alarmed by the prospect of being subjected to such a “rule the country by law” system—one also marked by rights violations including torture and abuse in detention, forced disappearance, televised confessions, and criminalisation of and crackdowns on legitimate exercise of rights.

In addition, developments in Hong Kong have contributed to undermining its long-established rule of law and eroding public faith and confidence in the government, the legal system, and law enforcement, including:

  • Selective arrests and politicised prosecution of protesters, high profile democracy activists, and legislators, and the imposition of disproportionately heavier sentences related to misuse and application of the Public Order Ordinance.
  • Police acting with impunity trampling on rights to peaceful assembly, expression and freedom from torture, ill-treatment or abuse. Police misconduct includes use of excessive force in violation of international standards, refusal to show ID cards or other official identification, and increasing reports of torture, abuse, or delay in providing medical attention and restriction to access to lawyers. We see evidence of this impunity every day, in video after video.
  • The use of “decoy” undercover police disguised as protestors (initially denied by the authorities), to conduct surveillance, sow distrust, and then participate in crowd control actions and conducting arrests.
  • Concerns regarding the role of mainland police and security forces in cooperation with the Hong Kong police: For example, in August 2018, the People’s Daily announced the establishment of the Greater Bay Area Police Cooperation Mechanism, among Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao. Part of or related to this mechanism, the Guangdong’s Public Security Department (gongan ting)has conducted training of key Hong Kong police personnel in Guangdong.
  • Concerns regarding potential infiltration by or use of mainland security or police forces on Hong Kong territory have also been generated by contested videos and reports of use of putonghua or phrases not commonly used by Hong Kong people such as comrade (tongzhi) and mismatches between a visible police badge belonging to a female officer, worn by a male officer.
  • The Notice of No Objection has granted the police the legal tool to clamp down on any peaceful protests. Therefore, Hong Kongers face the ridiculous situation where the police can deny [an] application for a letter of no objection filed by a group for a peaceful assembly to protest police violence. More importantly, this misuse of the procedure undermines the right to peaceful assembly under international standards by imposing unduly restrictive administrative requirements on the exercise of the right.

Instead of addressing the rampant police violence and misconduct and misuse of law that is fueling public anger and protests, the Chief Executive has maintained a hard-line echoing Beijing’s law and order rhetoric and economic priorities. She has refused to establish an independent commission of inquiry as demanded by the protesters and in fact recommended by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2013 in addition to its recommendation that there be training for the police. Instead, she is relying on a toothless IPCC fact-finding study exercise, that is woefully inadequate in terms of independence, credibility and even competency.

Why the UN and international human rights standards must be defended

China’s aggressive activism at the UN is undermining international standards, weakening existing human rights mechanisms and processes, and restricting the participation of independent civil society voices. This cuts Hong Kong people (as well as human rights defenders in mainland China, and Tibetan and Uyghur communities) from the key international platform available to press for accountability for human rights abuses by China. Instead of the West’s hoped-for convergence, China is not only not playing by the rules; it is also vocally and persistently asserting a set of relativist criteria that it alone can unilaterally apply. A Chinese official stated at [the] conclusion of China’s 2013 UPR: “What I want to emphasise is that whether the shoes fit, only the person knows. On the human rights situation of China, the people who are most qualified to speak are the people of China.”

With this rhetoric, the party-state conflation of itself, the nation, and 1.4 billion people is then deployed to deflect criticism of China’s rights records and accuse its critics of “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.” Efforts to raise rights concerns regarding the 1.4 billion wearers of the shoes are attacked as interference with domestic affairs and China’s sovereignty. This rhetorical strategy helps to intimidate, silence, and deflect from [the] accountability of the state; and undermines international standards and processes for monitoring, assessing, and promoting human rights protections.

In addition to this rhetorical strategy, through its membership in the NGO Committee of ECOSOC, China works to block ECOSOC accreditation of any NGO it views as critical of China, and therefore anti-China. GONGOs do not face objections such as the point of order interruptions of Denise Ho’s recent intervention at the Human Rights Council. The intervention last week by Patsy Ho, the representative of the Hong Kong Federation of
Women, (an NGO with ECOSOC special consultative status since 2000), is illustrative. She not only defended the SAR government’s handling of the protests and accused the Hong Kong protesters of “child exploitation” and more. Patsy Ho, co-chairwoman and executive director of Macao casino operator MGM China Holdings, is also a standing committee member of the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative
Conference.

While the U.S. has strongly criticised the ineffectiveness of the Human Rights Council, its leadership remains influential in the international community and within the UN system to counter these trends.

When China has to rotate off and cannot run for Council membership in 2020, this will be a good opportunity to get traction on key issues such as reforms to the NGO accreditation process and expanding civil society participation. Although China can and will undoubtedly remain active as an observer state, and work through its proxy client states, it will not have a vote and will be more procedurally limited. The US should use its observer status and strengthen alliances with other democratic states to build joint concrete actions and strategies.

In addition, more effective use of international normative statements and recommendations regarding Hong Kong would be constructive to counter Beijing’s vociferous assertions of its sovereignty and accusations of the international community’s “interference.” Some recent examples include statements of concern by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Joint statement by the special procedures.

China strategic deployment of its “Discourse power”

China’s strategic deployment of its “discourse power” (huayu quan) and Beijing’s narrative of protester violence contributes to disempowering (as intended) the frontline democracy movement’s efforts to get its own story or stories out to the Hong Kong public, people in the mainland, and the international community. Since the CPC announced its “big external propaganda” project in 2009, China has invested billions to compete with Western media. The key goal then and now is to “constantly enhance the dominance and discourse power in the ideological field" to tell the China story. High-level pronouncements, in particular, those by Xi Jinping, emphasise the priority of “enhancing China’s influence and discourse power in regional and global governance.”

In addition to its disinformation campaign, including the egregious use by China Daily on 9/11 of a photo depicting the destruction of the World Trade Towers to warn of a terrorist attack by Hong Kong protesters, Beijing is advancing a narrative of violence to frame the Hong Kong protests that is echoed uncritically by international community. Within this frame, the Hong Kong police, protected in full tactical gear, armed with rubber bullets, guns, tear gas, pepper spray, and batons, wielding the coercive power of the state is presented as one “side” of escalating violent clashes with civilian protesters. Hence calls for “both sides” to de-escalate that deflects attention away from police accountability for its excessive use of force in violation of international standards, and its complicity with non-state violence, such as the triad-related attacks in Yuen Long.

More importantly, the narrow violence narrative framing of the situation on the ground is erasing or marginalising (intentionally) the proliferation of diverse creative and peaceful protest actions by Hong Kong people such as:

  • Students are participating in class-boycott actions, forming a “human chain” of joined hands, shouting slogans across different campuses, and singing “Do You Hear the People sing” during the opening ceremony for the academic year when the Chinese national anthem was played. The motto of the school is “Live to Learn, Learn to Live.”
  • Elderly citizens—“silver-hair” volunteers—have organised “protect the children” actions or marched to support younger protesters.
  • Hong Kong people of all ages and backgrounds sing together in malls, streets, metro stations, in neighbourhood gatherings, “Glory to Hong Kong,” all shared on proliferating viral videos. And Christians sing “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” during marches and assemblies.
  • A young child leads a call and response —Hong Kong people, add oil!—from a flyover as the stream of marchers passes below.
  • Since August, tenants in Hong Kong’s residential estates shout out their windows every night at 10 p.m. protests slogans with calls and responses echoing across different neighbourhoods in Hong Kong.
  • During the “Hong Kong Way” human chain formed by over 200,000 people stretching over 60 km (37 miles) across the city on August 23, citizens climbed up to the iconic Lion Rock, their cellphones forming an unending line of light in the dark night.
  • Since late June, Lennon Walls have appeared all over Hong Kong, in almost every district, and also in communities globally, including Japan, Canada, US, UK, and Australia.
  • Last Friday was Mid- Autumn Festival: A bakery shop in Sai Wan made mooncakes with protest slogans in support of Hong Kong citizens and anti-extradition movement.
  • In typical creative humorous Hong Kong fashion, Hong Kongers are creating art, such as miniature figurines of protesters, with life-like accurate details or a Hong Kong version of a Goddess of Democracy.

This is what is happening on the ground. Hong Kong people are practising democracy and exercising their freedoms for as long as possible. Hong Kongers are making the road by walking it. That is the real revolution already underway.

Thank you again for convening this hearing. I look forward to your questions.


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Hong Kong activists Denise Ho and Joshua Wong testify at US congressional hearing on protests