3 Ways The United States Can Still Support Hong Kong's Freedom

Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Federalist on July 20, 2020.

In a strong show of support for the pro-democracy movement, more than 600,000 people voted in the Hong Kong opposition’s unofficial primary elections. Now, Beijing has declared the primaries illegal and accused voters of violating its sweeping new national security law.

The law has proven to be everything Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement feared and more. As China swallows Hong Kong and crushes the freedom once found there, the United States should continue to support the city’s fierce freedom-lovers.

Last year’s pro-democracy protests against Beijing garnered outspoken support from U.S. politicians and human rights advocates. Since the law’s enaction, any semblance of Beijing’s commitment to maintaining the “one country, two systems” principle — agreed upon when the British handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997 — is destroyed, as is everything that made Hong Kong unique and free. Now, the voices of protestors who boldly faced off with the world’s most powerful authoritarian government are fading under the threat of imprisonment.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Congress continues to demonstrate concern for Hong Kong’s future. Undoubtedly, it is not at all in America’s interest to watch free societies fall under China’s authoritarian grasp. This week, President Trump made a good first step by signing the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, but more can be done. So, how can the United States support the pro-democracy movement now?

First, the United States should impose consequences on any Chinese officials responsible for violating the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy for 50 years. Beijing’s sudden abandonment of the landmark agreement and sidestepping of Hong Kong’s judicial system violates the fundamental human rights of all seven million residents of Hong Kong.

One of the most effective tools available to address human rights violations is by employing the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016. Using the legal framework of the Global Magnitsky Act, the U.S. government should implement sanctions against guilty Chinese officials as soon as possible. Beijing has shown the world it will not hesitate to crush freedom and ignore fundamental human rights, including the right to free speech and free assembly. Such behavior warrants a strong reaction from free nations.

Second, the United States should strengthen its support for the other bastion of freedom that Beijing covets: Taiwan. Taiwan is one of the first choices for Hong Kongers looking to flee to escape Beijing’s reach. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is proactive in her support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, offering refuge and assistance to Hong Kongers.

Taiwan, a reliable and democratic U.S. partner, feels increasingly threatened by Chinese aggression in the wake of Hong Kong’s national security law. Yet while Hong Kong was a Chinese city that was promised a high degree of autonomy, Taiwan is a distinct country with its own government. Its claim to independence is even stronger than Hong Kong’s, and U.S. reactions to Chinese aggression against Taiwan should reflect that. The United States must make it clear that antagonism against Taiwan will not be tolerated.

Third, U.S. government officials and activists should continue to speak for freedom-loving Hong Kongers who now feel they cannot speak for themselves. In crafting the national security law, Beijing made it illegal to promote democratic reform for Hong Kong, no matter where in the world someone is. The intent is to cut off international activism.

Over the last year, protestors effectively used social media to stir international sympathy and awareness. They can no longer do so without violating the law and risking imprisonment. As soon as the new law passed, many Hong Kongers deleted social media accounts as well as any online evidence of their past pro-democracy or pro-Hong Kong advocacy. As their voices fade under Chinese oppression, the United States must speak on their behalf.

The debate over Hong Kong is taking place on a global stage. Nathan Law, a Hong Kong activist who fled the city earlier this month, said, “For Hong Kong, we have to understand that it is the foreground of a very global fight, authoritarianism versus democracy.” Verily, America’s participation in this critical debate matters a great deal both for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protestors and those still longing for freedom across the globe.

As Hong Kong changes under the national security law, we must remember the protestors who waved the American flag as they demanded their own freedom. The freedom-lovers of Hong Kong still deserve our support, and the United States should explore every available avenue and make every feasible effort to lend it. The city that once saw hundreds of thousands flood the streets for democracy is falling silent. We must not.