Bills supporting Hong Kong human rights tabled before President Trump

By: Austin Wright

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On November 21, the United States Senate approved two bills intended to back human rights in Hong Kong. If signed by President Trump, the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019” and the “Placing Restrictions on Teargas Exports and Crowd Control Technology to Hong Kong Act” would restrict the exportation of teargas and crowd control technology to Hong Kong authorities. They would also extend annual reporting on Hong Kong to include assessments of its autonomy.

“The people of #HongKong deserve a future that sees their rights respected,” tweeted United States House of Representatives speaker, Nancy Pelosi. “It is critical that the President quickly enact this legislation in the face of Beijing’s crackdown. Many thanks to @RepMcGovern & @RepChrisSmith for leading the bipartisan effort to pass this legislation.”

The passing of the bills follows months of protests and unrest in Hong Kong. Encounters between Hong Kong police and pro-democracy protesters have often ended in violence – including the shooting of protesters by police and the burning of a man by protesters. 

Hong Kong’s response

In a statement, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) expressed their “strong opposition” to the passage of the bill, noting that the acts will only interfere with the situation in Hong Kong. “The ‘Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act’ and the other act on Hong Kong were unnecessary and unwarranted. They would also harm the relations and common interests between Hong Kong and the US,” said a government spokesman on November 20.

In stronger words, state-sponsored Global Times said the act should really be named the “Support Hong Kong Violence Act.” The publication criticized the bill for overtly taking sides with rioters that are “destroying the rule of law in Hong Kong.”

The road ahead

President Trump will still need to sign the bills in order for them to take effect. In an interview with Fox and Friends (44:20), the president sounded undecided on whether or not he would sign or veto the bills. “We have to stand with Hong Kong,” said President Trump on the call. “But I’m also standing with Xi Jinping. He’s a friend of mine. He’s an incredible guy. We have to stand, but I’d like to see them work it out.” 

Tensions between the United States and China have been high as the two countries work to negotiate a trade deal, and it is unclear as to how the signing of the bills would affect these negotiations. “We also are in the process of making the largest trade deal in history,” said President Trump in the same Fox and Friends call. “And if we could do that, that would be great. China wants it. We want it.”

President Trump went on to say that, “If it weren’t for me, thousands of people would have been killed in Hong Kong right now, and you wouldn’t have any riots. You’d have a police state. The only reason he’s not going in is because I’m saying it will affect our trade deal.”

It is also important to note that if the president chooses to veto the bills, Congress could still override it. 

Background on the Hong Kong Protests

Protests initially broke out in March this year, after Hong Kong’s Security Bureau proposed a bill that would allow extradition to mainland China. Many of Hong Kong’s citizens viewed the bill as an overstep of mainland China’s government on their own government’s autonomy. 

Protesters have outlined five demands that include: full withdrawal of the extradition bill, an independent commission of inquiry into alleged police brutality, retracting the classification of protesters as ‘rioters,’ amnesty for arrested protesters, and dual universal suffrage (meaning for both the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive).

Violence and protests

Police and protesters have clashed in multiple violent incidents. Police have used rubber bullets, tear gas, vehicles, and even live ammunition in the enforcement of crowd control. In total, three officer-involved shootings have occurred since the protests began.

The Hong Kong government has insinuated that the alleged, violent conduct of their officers is malicious rumor. They also said that all police officers are required to justify their conduct.

“Online rumors stated that Police management have [sic] ordered frontline officers to recklessly use their firearms in today’s operations,” said Hong Kong’s government in a statement released after the shooting on November 11. “Police clarifies that this allegation is totally false and malicious. Police has [sic] strict guidelines and orders regarding the use of firearms. All Police officers are required to justify their enforcement actions.”

Protesters have also allegedly engaged in acts of violence. In one video, a pro-democracy protester can be seen lighting a man on fire after an argument. 

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The government has also accused protesters of rioting, throwing petrol bombs, assaulting officers, and vandalism.