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US House passes ‘Democracy Act’ demanded by Hong Kong protesters

The Hong Kong Rights and Democracy Act would end Hong Kong's special trading status with the United States unless the State Department certifies annually that city authorities are respecting human rights and the rule of law.

Democracy

The US House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill sought by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong that will end Hong Kong’s special trading status unless state department officials certify each year that Hong Kong authorities are respecting human rights and rule of law.

US law makers claim that this law will help to defend civil rights in the semi-autonomous territory governed by China. However Beijing sees it as direct intervention to further spread chaos in the city of Hong Kong which is treated by People’s Republic of China as a “Special Administrative Region (SAR) since 1997. Hong Kong was governed as a British Colony, from 1842 when China defeated in the First Opium War had ceded Hong Kong to Britain through “Treaty of Nanking” in August 1842.

This British mandate was expanded on surrounding areas for next 99 years, through the “New Territories Lease” in 1898. In 1997 Britain returned Hong Kong and surrounding areas back to China under an arrangement in which China agreed to continue Hong Kong’s British created political system for next fifty years in what was then called, “One Country, two Systems”

Chinese sources, GVS spoke to in Islamabad, argue that Britain tried making radical changes in Hong Kong’s political system through the “Reform Package of 1994” when Chris Patten was the last governor. Chinese believe that while Britain governed Hong Kong with an iron hand for 150 years from 1842 onwards, it suddenly created the controversy of expanded political rights from 1994 onwards to make things difficult for the post-British administration. Chinese see the pro-democracy movement of Hong Kong as being sponsored from abroad and thus the actions of western media and now the US House of Representatives in that light.

In the United States, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which will now move to a similar vote in the Senate before it can become law, has drawn rare bipartisan support in an otherwise polarized Congress. To Chinese this is a clear proof of US state interests involved in supporting the Hong Kong protestors.

Passage of this law as Act is likely to further aggravate China which has accused “external forces” of fuelling weeks of unrest in the global financial hub. Hong Kong’s population of around 7.4 million lives in a limited urban area, around 1000 square kilometres, and is thus amongst the most densely populated cities in the world.

Prominent Hong Kong activists testified before a congressional hearing last month in support of the legislation approved by the House on Tuesday.

“Today we’re simply urging the Chinese president and the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, to faithfully honor the government’s promises” that Hong Kong’s rights and autonomy would be protected, Republican Representative Chris Smith, prime sponsor of the bill, said on the House floor.

Hundreds and thousands have taken to the streets of Hong Kong, in the last few months, initially against a now-dropped bid by its leaders to allow extraditions to the authoritarian Chinese mainland.

The months-long movement has expanded into a broader pro-democracy push in the territory where activists say freedoms are being eroded by Beijing, despite a deal that outlined Hong Kong’s 1997 return to China from British colonial rule. This movement gets huge projection on western tv. channels and publications which convinces the authorities in Beijing and independent analysts that there is perhaps a bigger outside agenda behind this.

Read more: Stop Glorifying violent Hong Kong Protesters: China blasts France and EU

The Hong Kong Rights and Democracy Act would end Hong Kong’s special trading status with the United States unless the State Department certifies annually that city authorities are respecting human rights and the rule of law.

It also requires the US president to identify and sanction people who are responsible for the erosion of autonomy and serious abuses of human rights in Hong Kong. Beijing see these actions clearly designed to embolden young protesters in Hong Kong – most of whom are students, to demand more. Hong Kong’s 7.4 million population is middle aged and older with mean age around 42 years. Student protestors thus constitute a small vocal section of this ageing population.

“The House just sent a strong message to the people of Hong Kong: We stand with you in the fight for democracy and justice,” said Ben Ray Lujan, a House Democrat.

Its passage is likely to further aggravate China which has accused “external forces” of fuelling weeks of unrest in the global financial hub.

Republican House member Mario Diaz-Balart said the Act ensures “that the special relationship with Hong Kong endures only as long as Hong Kong retains the autonomy and freedoms that justify that special relationship.”

The House also approved, by a similar voice vote, a related bill to prohibit the export of certain non-lethal crowd control items such as tear gas to Hong Kong.

Read more: Apple removes app used by Hong Kong protesters under China’s pressure

Amnesty International has accused the city’s officers of using excessive force, although the police say they have exercised restraint.

A separate house resolution called on the Hong Kong government to begin negotiations to address the demonstrators’ demands, which include universal suffrage and an independent probe into police conduct.

Prominent Hong Kong activists testified before a congressional hearing last month in support of the legislation approved by the House on Tuesday.

GVS News Desk with inputs from Agencies including AFP.

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