By: John Curtis
In 1997, Hong Kong was handed off from Great Britain to China in accordance with the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, which stipulated that Hong Kong must enjoy a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years before it is officially under China’s full legal jurisdiction. In other words, China gave Hong Kong the right to an independent legislative process and its own court system and market regulations until at least 2047. This autonomy—and the U.S. recognition of that autonomy—is what has allowed Hong Kong’s economy and democracy to flourish.
However, Hong Kong is no longer autonomous because the Chinese Communist Party has reneged on its commitment to Great Britain and the world. On June 30, the People’s Republic of China imposed its National Security Law on Hong Kong. The mandate violates the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, as it was implemented without the consent of the governed through Hong Kong’s legislative body and imposes mainland China’s judicial structure on Hong Kong. It was implemented without the text of the law being known and without announcing the punishments if violated. Unfortunately, the content of this “National Security” law confirms the fears of activists in Hong Kong and democratic societies around the world.
The law criminalizes secessionism, subversion, “terrorist activities” and “collusion” with foreign forces with a definition so broad it effectively makes freedom of speech and freedom of assembly offenses with a sentence of life in prison. It sets up a “National Security Committee” in Hong Kong run by the Central People’s Government with legal impunity for any acts committed while enforcing the law. As if the harm the law will cause to this generation wasn’t enough, it also mandates that Hong Kong’s government undertake “national security education” in schools, social organizations and media outlets. This law, in effect, makes offending the sensibilities of the Chinese Communist Party illegal. This law is not about national security, it is an attempt to kill the freedom, liberty and dignity of all who care about Hong Kong.
This is confirmed by the fact that one of the first arrests under the National Security Law was a 15-year-old girl potentially facing life in prison for having a banner calling for Hong Kong’s independence. No individual is safe from the oppressive law.
While partisanship dominates the news cycle, support for Hong Kongers remains a deeply bipartisan issue in Congress, with multiple swift actions being undertaken. In response to the National Security Law, I, along with colleagues of both political parties and chambers of Congress, introduced the “Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act.” The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act would designate Hong Kongers as Priority 2 refugees—streamlining their refugee admission process. Hong Kongers could apply for refugee status at the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, a U.S. embassy in another country, or the American Institute of Taiwan. It waives all refugee caps to ensure those seeking refugee status from Hong Kong do not compete for slots with those fleeing oppressive regimes elsewhere in the world.
The bill also sets up an asylum path for those in Hong Kong who are in immediate danger from the Chinese Communist Party and need to get out immediately: frontline activists, journalists harmed while covering the protests, first aid responders at the protest, those who provided legal services to those arrested for the protests, and anyone arrested during the protests since June 9, 2019—the start of the Hong Kong protests. It protects against authorities revoking the residency or citizenship of Hong Kongers in response to them applying for refugee status or asylum by ensuring that such people are eligible under the bill. Our legislation also makes it U.S. policy to work with likeminded ally countries to accept refugees from Hong Kong.
Additionally, Congress recently passed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, imposing financial sanctions on those who facilitated the takeover of Hong Kong. The administration has also proposed additional actions such as visa restrictions and export controls. However, this should only be step one of the U.S. response. The U.S. should offer a lifeboat to Hong Kongers who fear persecution.
Much like Berlin during the latter half of the 20th Century, Hong Kong has been the flashpoint between freedom and tyranny. Hong Kongers have fought for the same freedoms and values we cherish in America. The right to say what you want to say, the right to convene the way you want to convene, the right to worship the way you want to worship, all of these are essential things that we in the U.S. and, those in Hong Kong, have enjoyed. These are valuable rights that sometimes we take for granted. Sometimes it takes something happening in other parts of the world—like Hong Kong—to make us appreciate these back home. The United States must show Hong Kong that we saw them, we heard them, we value them, and we offer them safe harbor in the U.S.
Curtis represents Utah’s 3rd District and is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.