A group of US lawmakers overseeing congressional China policy condemned Beijing’s recently announced plans to overhaul Hong Kong’s election system and urged President Joe Biden to help the city defend its “autonomy and basic freedoms”.
The comments, which come as Beijing prepares to implement new rules in Hong Kong that critics warn will block opposition politicians from holding elected office, were the latest sign of the bipartisan anger in Congress over the Chinese government’s crackdown on dissent in the city.
“Beijing’s efforts to stamp out democratic opposition in Hong Kong only [underscore] its own insecurities,” the group of eight senators and representatives said on Monday, a mix of Democrats and Republicans including Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, and Senator Ed Markey and Representative James McGovern, both of Massachusetts.
“These revisions will only continue to advance Beijing’s ever tightening grip on Hongkongers’ autonomy, basic freedoms, and fundamental human rights,” they said. “With these actions, the Chinese government is doubling down on its attempts to impose an authoritarian system on Hong Kong.”
The changes to the city’s election system were formally proposed last week during the annual meeting of China’s rubber stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress. They are expected to be formally voted on during a session on March 11.
The proposed changes would grant additional power to Beijing and its loyalists in Hong Kong when choosing the city’s leader and members of the Legislative Council, the city’s assembly. Only those deemed to be “patriots” will be allowed to govern the city.
The changes also come amid widening enforcement of the national security law that Beijing imposed on the city last summer.
Last week, 47 opposition figures in Hong Kong were charged with conspiring to subvert state power over their roles in an unofficial primary run-off election last year.
Officials in Hong Kong and Beijing say the law and changes to the city’s election system are all necessary in the aftermath of the huge protests that engulfed the city in 2019, which erupted after leaders tried to push through a law that would have extradited criminal suspects to China, where the courts are controlled by the Communist Party.
In their statement on Monday, the US lawmakers also called on Biden to use the tools granted to him under Hong Kong-focused legislation passed in recent years, and to “work with allies and partners to develop other mechanisms to support the people of Hong Kong”.
Those tools include the power to sanction officials who Washington says are responsible for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China. The Trump administration blacklisted Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor from the US financial system last summer.
And they emphasised the bipartisan nature of the opposition to Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong – one of the few major policy issues on polarised Capitol Hill where there is widespread agreement on both sides.
“As members of Congress, we will continue to speak with one voice in support of freedom, democracy, and justice for the people of Hong Kong,” they said.