- Joshua Wong and Denise Ho address a congressional committee, with Wong saying he hopes Congress will be celebrated ‘for having stood on the side of Hongkongers’
- Their visit coincided with the launch of a new Washington-based advocacy group to champion human rights and democracy in Hong Kong
Prominent pro-democracy figures from Hong Kong made direct calls to United States lawmakers on Tuesday, urging Congress to pass new legislation that bolsters US support for the city's autonomy.
Activists including Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Denise Ho travelled to Washington to testify before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), as unrest in Hong Kong passed its 100th day. Their visit coincided with the launch on Tuesday of a new Washington-based advocacy organisation championing human rights and democracy in Hong Kong.
While triggered by a now-dead extradition bill, protests in Hong Kong have over time adopted a broader pro-democracy agenda, including demands for universal suffrage; an independent inquiry into allegations of police brutality: and amnesty for the hundreds of Hongkongers arrested since demonstrations began in June.
Historians will look back on 2019 as "a watershed", said Wong, who himself is on bail pending an appeal against unlawful assembly charges. The 22-year-old expressed hope that historians would "celebrate the United States Congress for having stood on the side of Hongkongers, the side of human rights and democracy".
Introduced by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Representative Christopher Smith of New Jersey, both Republicans, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act would, among other things, require the US to sanction Chinese officials deemed responsible for "undermining basic freedoms in Hong Kong".
Support in Congress is growing for the bipartisan bill, which is now backed by 45 lawmakers across the Senate and House of Representatives.
Beijing regards the legislative move as evidence of efforts by "foreign forces" to interfere in Hong Kong affairs, which it considers an internal matter.
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Testifying before Tuesday's panel on Capitol Hill, the Hong Kong singer and activist Denise Ho urged lawmakers to pass the bill, and said that hers was "not a plea for the so-called 'foreign interference'".
"This is a plea for democracy," Ho told the panel.
"This is a plea for the freedom to choose."
Though supportive of the bill, Sharon Hom of Human Rights in China, an advocacy group promoting democratic reforms in China, said that Hongkongers did not need the salvation of foreign governments like the US. "I think Hong Kong people will save ourselves," she said.
"What I think is necessary from the international community is please help make the human cost less," said Hom, who is the advocacy group's executive director. "Because it's very clear and heartbreaking that the young people are ready to go to the mat."
In his testimony, Wong, who heads Hong Kong's pro-democracy Demosisto party and was one of the leaders of the 2014 Occupy movement, sad that Beijing had "turned a whole generation of youngsters (into) dissidents".
Ahead of Tuesday's hearing, Beijing accused Wong of being anti-Chinese and seeking to serve himself through courting foreign support.
Wong, who last week called for a human rights clause in any US-China trade agreement, was "in no position to make wanton comments on matters of US-China relations", said a foreign ministry spokeswoman at a regular briefing on Monday.
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"I will reiterate that Hong Kong affairs are purely China's internal affairs," the spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said. "No foreign government, organisation or individual has any right to interfere."
The Chinese government has also accused Washington of being directly responsible for unrest in Hong Kong, pointing to the appearance of "American faces" and US flags at protests, and meetings in the US capital between senior administration officials and pro-democracy advocates from Hong Kong.
Representative Smith said on Tuesday that blaming the US executive and congressional branches for the protests was "an act of cowardly propaganda and not befitting a nation with aspirations of global leadership".
Hong Kong extradition opponents take their case to the US Congress
In May, pro-democracy activists, including Martin Lee and Nathan Law, also testified before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China about the then-proposed extradition bill that would have permitted extraditions to the mainland, as well as other jurisdictions with which Hong Kong lacked a treaty.
Support for Hong Kong on Tuesday was not limited to a push for passage of the new bill. Later in the day, activists launched the Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC), a US-registered non-governmental organisation based in Washington that describes itself as "the new, unified and hopeful voice for Hong Kong democracy and human rights in DC".
At an open-air news conference held a stone's throw from Tuesday's hearing, members of Congress, activists, professors and singers voiced support for Hong Kong's struggle.
"This uphill battle, we need to stand as one in solidarity," Wong said in support of the new organisation. "Now is the time for the world to pay attention to Hong Kong."
Anna Cheung, an HKDC founding board member and biology professor at Manhattanville College in Harrison, New York, said it took about three months to organise the group, which she said would help strengthen communication with Congress and educate Americans about Hong Kong.
Cheung said she expected the council to continue, financed by crowd funding, even after the current showdown ends given the continuing nature of problems in Hong Kong.
"We've seen with the 'umbrella movement', boom, in five years it wakes up," she said.
At one point during the news conference, screeching electronic feedback blared from a microphone. "Is that Beijing?" joked Representative Tom Suozzi, a Democrat of New York, from the makeshift lectern.
"The world is paying attention to what's happening in Hong Kong right now," he said. "We can't stop."
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