When China took over Hong Kong from Britain more than two decades ago, it agreed to allow continued freedoms there. That promise appears increasingly in jeopardy as police, apparently doing Beijing's bidding, continue cracking down on pro-democracy demonstrators — many of them waving American flags and publicly appealing for U.S. support.
Obviously, America shouldn't become directly embroiled in the conflict — but it should ensure it isn't inadvertently aiding in oppression from Beijing. Two measures pending in Congress would, among other things, prevent the sale of U.S. police equipment that could be used against protesters, and sanction those who commit violence against them, sending a message to China and the world that America remains on the side of political freedom. There's no reason this bipartisan measure shouldn't pass easily and get President Donald Trump's signature.
Citizens of the former British colony are protesting what they say is increasing interference by Chinese authorities. The unrest was sparked earlier this year by a bill that would have threatened Hong Kong defendants with extradition to China in violation of Hong Kong's promised autonomy. Though that bill has since been withdrawn, the protests illuminated other conflicts between Hong Kong protesters and China.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong activists testified before Congress in support of the two measures. The Protect Hong Kong Act would bar the U.S. from exporting tear gas, rubber bullets and other crowd-control materials to Hong Kong, ensuring American products wouldn't be used against protesters. And the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act would ensure that Hong Kong protesters are not denied access to visas. It would also put sanctions on anyone who violates human rights in Hong Kong and would mandate that the Trump administration regularly report on human rights developments there.
"This is not a plea for so-called foreign interference," activist Denise Ho told the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. "This is a plea for democracy."
China, of course, maintains that any congressional action would constitute foreign interference in its domestic affairs — the cry of oppressors throughout history. While the U.S. cannot impose its political values on other governments, it has the indisputable right to set its own standards for economic and diplomatic interaction with governments that flout those values.
The legislation has strong congressional support in both parties, a rarity these days. The wildcard remains Trump, who has been uncharacteristically subdued throughout the debate, perhaps out of concern that such action by the U.S. would complicate his strategy (whatever that might be) in his continuing trade war with China.
A trade war that shouldn't be happening is no excuse for the U.S. to stay silent on a crackdown that shouldn't be happening against a free society. Congress, and Trump, should get behind America's principles and support these measures. The world is watching.
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