By Arielle Del Turco
"Five demands, not one less." This message was paraded throughout Hong Kong by pro-democracy protestors over the weekend. This is bad news for Hong Kong politicians who want to finally suppress the demonstrations that have been occurring all summer. Today, protesters received one of their demands when Hong Kong's government relented and formally withdrew the extradition bill which sparked the protests.
But don't expect protests to subside. At the root of the protests was never the extradition bill itself, but rather what it represented -- the communist-led government of mainland China gaining influence in Hong Kong.
The government is only tightening its grip, as it reportedly makes plans to replace Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam. That China could so brazenly announce its decision to replace Lam further confirms Beijing's intent to control Hong Kong.
When the city was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, it was agreed that Hong Kong would operate under the "one country, two systems" policy for 50 years. This allowed Hong Kong to keep the freedoms that led to its flourishing. Meanwhile, those in mainland China remain under the full weight of authoritarian regime, and its many human rights and religious freedom violations.
Most of the protestors are young. They will be the generation to see Hong Kong handed over to the Chinese Communist Party when the "one country, two systems" policy expires -- and they don't want to witness that. A sense of urgency is spurring young Hong Kongers and they feel a duty to fight back against an oppressive government.
Protestors regularly wave the American flag in Hong Kong as the movement appeals to the land of the free for help attaining their own freedom. What can the U.S. do?
The protestors have at least one answer. Thousands rallied last week to urge U.S. lawmakers to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. This legislation would require our Secretary of State to certify whether Hong Kong remains sufficiently autonomous from Beijing to justify its unique treatment under U.S. law.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been instrumental in advancing this legislation. He explained that, "Hong Kong's special status -- and therefore Beijing's ability to exploit and benefit from it -- 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 U.S. dollar." That's why this measure can effectively guard Hong Kong against further encroachment from the Chinese regime.
The House of Representatives' version of the bill, introduced by Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), passed last week, raising the ire of Hong Kong's leaders who are busy brushing aside the concerns of protestors. The Senate has yet to pass its version, and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is pushing for a vote this week.
Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) recently visited Hong Kong and met with the protestors. He insists that the demonstrators deserve our support, and he will take to the Senate floor today to make the case for the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. This is a simple bill that has the potential to hold the line and help protect Hong Kong from China's authoritarian reach, and it should be passed as soon as possible. Hong Kongers wave our flag because they admire our country and the freedoms we have. We should support them as they fight for their own.