Congress Leads U.S. Efforts to Protect Hong Kong Protesters

(INSET: Hong Kong riot police fire tears gas grenades) US Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, speaks during a press conference following a vote in the US House on ending US military involvement in the war in Yemen, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 4, 2019. (Photo by SAUL …
Saul Loeb, Vivek Prakash/AFP/Getty Images

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) announced Tuesday he will seek to pass a law suspending U.S. sales of anti-riot gear to Hong Kong police, citing its excessive use against peaceful pro-democracy protesters.

The legislation will join efforts to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, protecting Hong Kong residents from international consequences of a potential Chinese crackdown.

American lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum have issued messages of support to the pro-democracy movement in the city and condemned the use of violence by Hong Kong police against protesters since the movement took shape in early June. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been at the forefront of the calls for America to send moral backing to the protesters, accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Though President Donald Trump has stayed mostly silent on the subject, the Chinese Communist Party has accused the United States, without evidence, of creating the protest movement to destabilize the Chinese economy.

Millions of Hong Kong residents have joined the protests since early June to call for the full withdrawal of a bill that would allow China to extradite anyone present in Hong Kong if accused of violating communist laws. Hong Kong residents are also calling for government authorities to apologize for referring to a protest on June 12 as a “riot,” freedom for imprisoned protesters, an independent inquiry on police brutality, and the right to directly elect all of their lawmakers. Currently, Hong Kong residents are only allowed to elect half of the members of the Legislative Council (LegCo), while special interest groups elect the other half.

American companies manufacture a not-insignificant amount of the tear gas sold to Hong Kong police for crowd control.

“Due to the excessive use of force & lack of restraint by Hong Kong authorities, I will soon introduce legislation to suspend U.S. sales of munitions, police & crowd control equipment to the Hong Kong police,” Rep. McGovern (pictured) announced via Twitter on Tuesday, according to the Hong Kong Foreign Press (HKFP). As Congress does not begin its new session until September, McGovern has not yet had the opportunity to detail how the legislation would work.

A law banning sales of tear gas to Hong Kong would significantly impact Pennsylvania, a “leading manufacturer of tear gas” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The newspaper noted that two companies in the state are in the top five producers of “riot control systems” and cutting Hong Kong’s government off from the American anti-riot industry could weaken efforts to repress the protest. Authorities have not provided any information that would clarify how many of the over 1,800 canisters of tear gas fired at peaceful protesters since the protests began in June came from America.

McGovern is the latest in a chorus of bipartisan lawmakers urging action in solidarity of the anti-China protests. In early August, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) urged American companies to no longer sell riot control systems to the Hong Kong government, addressing the Department of State. A week prior, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) noted that Washington similarly banned riot control gear sales to China following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

“If [Communist dictator] Xi Jinping doesn’t stop eroding Hong Kong’s sovereignty & halt attacks on protesters, the US must consider applying the same policy to Hong Kong,” Cruz suggested.

Speaker Pelosi has also called for canceling tear gas sales to Hong Kong police, citing both Smith and McGovern in an August 6 message to “suspend future sales of munitions and crowd control equipment to the Hong Kong police force.”

Hong Kong protesters have begun a petition urging Congress to move to ban U.S. riot gear sales to the Hong Kong police. During several pro-democracy events, protesters have waved the American flag and sung “The Star-Spangled Banner” in an effort to attract support from the United States.

Pelosi has led the Congressional charge against the use of violence against the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, earning the ire of the Chinese state. On Tuesday, Pelosi issued a statement urging President Trump to speak out against China and reiterating Congress’s commitment to the protesters.

“In the Congress, Democrats and Republicans continue to stand united with the people of Hong Kong in demanding the hopeful, free and democratic future that is their right,” Pelosi said. “In the coming weeks, we will work to pass the bicameral and bipartisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the face of Beijing’s crackdown and focus on banning the sale of munitions and crowd control gear to the Hong Kong police force.”

“If America does not speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out elsewhere,” she emphasized.

Senate Majority Leader McConnell similarly asserted that “any violent crackdown would be completely unacceptable” against the protesters and warned China “the world is watching.”

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act would ensure that arrests during peaceful protests do not keep Hong Kong residents from being granted visas to the United States and offers other safeguards to the pro-democracy movement. McGovern and Smith introduced it into the House of Representatives, while Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jim Risch (R-ID), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced it into the Senate in June.

Cardin warned on Wednesday that further violations of the rights of Hong Kong protesters would result in Washington lifting Hong Kong’s special economic status, a potentially devastating blow to the Chinese economy.

“I can assure you that if China comes down hard on the protesters that there will be action in Congress to enforce the autonomy agreements that were entered into that are part of the special recognition of Hong Kong,” Cardin told Reuters. “If China interferes with the autonomy of Hong Kong, then it does affect our agreements in regard to Hong Kong as far as the trade zone is concerned.”

This support has led the Chinese government to accuse Washington directly of fabricating the protests.

“Judging from what was on the media, we see clear signs of foreign manipulation, orchestration and even organization in the relevant violent incidents,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying claimed in July. “I hope the U.S. will answer this question honestly and clearly: what role did the U.S. play in the recent incidents in Hong Kong and what is your purpose behind it? … We advise the U.S. to withdraw its dirty hands from Hong Kong as soon as possible.”

In another tirade last week, Hua called America “arrogant, biased, hypocritical, ruthless, selfish and bossy” over support for civil and political liberties.

“Nancy Pelosi and some other U.S. politicians have been calling white black time and again, bolstering violent radical criminals and even justifying and whitewashing their behaviors,” Hua said on Tuesday. “They’ve also wantonly smeared and vilified the just move of the SAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] government and police to uphold the rule of law and order.”

Government-controlled media has engaged in similar attacks, calling Pelosi “trashy” for supporting the anti-communist movement.

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