"It's their fear." That's what's motivating the young protesters of Hong Kong to continue demonstrating after months of mounting threats from the Chinese government, according to Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). As Hawley told me on Washington Watch this week, "Beijing promised the people of Hong Kong when they took back over the city that they would protect the basic liberties of the Hong Kong residents -- their right to worship, their right to speak, their right to assemble, free press. And now they're trying to take those things away."
Hong Kong protesters have continually appealed to the United States for help in the face of Chinese oppression. They often wave American flags or carry Captain America shields, hoping that the land of the free will be sympathetic to their own demands for freedom and democracy. As the demonstrations continue and the police violently crackdown, protesters are becoming more desperate and more afraid of Beijing's encroachment into Hong Kong.
One request of the protesters is that the U.S. Congress pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. This legislation would require the U.S. Secretary of State to determine whether Hong Kong remains sufficiently autonomous from Beijing to justify its unique treatment under U.S. law. Thus, incentivizing China to maintain Hong Kong's unique "one country, two systems" arrangement under which Hong Kong has thrived. Sen. Hawley says this bill will give the U.S. government new foreign policy tools to use with China. "It also gives our government the power to reassess our trade status with Hong Kong if Beijing decides to try and do something truly foolish, like overrun the city."
Hawley has been an ardent supporter of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, because he knows just how real the threat of losing their freedoms is to the people there. "The people of Hong Kong realize that if Beijing succeeds, they'll never get their rights back. And so they're standing up."
While Hong Kong residents make their stand, Hawley had some advice for how U.S. leaders should deal with China. "Beijing only understands pressure… They're a bully. So, they only understand if you stand up to them. You can't you can't be passive." Indeed, facing off with the world's most powerful authoritarian country requires courage. Such courage is shown by tireless protesters in Hong Kong and the U.S. politicians willing to spend political capital to send a powerful message to Beijing.