US’ revised Hong Kong democracy bill targets Chinese state media over ‘harassment’ of protesters
Legislation would compel the US State Department to weigh ‘deliberate targeting of democracy activists’ in granting visas to Chinese state media’s journalists. Hong Kong newspapers run by the Communist Party are cited specifically in the revised bill, expected to go to a US Senate vote by mid-October.
The latest version of US legislation aimed at supporting democratic freedoms in Hong Kong targets media outlets affiliated with China’s government and seeks to bar the exportation of crowd control and surveillance equipment to the city, expanding the scope of a proposed law that has ratcheted up tension between Washington and Beijing.
A revised Senate version of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, which was approved in that chamber’s foreign relations committee on Wednesday, would compel the US State Department to take “deliberate targeting and harassment” of democracy activists and US diplomatic personnel by media organisations controlled by China into account when reviewing visa applications from those outlets’ journalists.
Hong Kong newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Po, both run by the Communist Party of China, are cited specifically in the revised bill, which is expected to go to a vote on the Senate floor by mid-October.
Alleged harassment of a US diplomat by Chinese media sparked a war of words between Washington and Beijing last month, when Ta Kung Pao published personal details of Julie Eadeh, chief of the US consulate’s political unit, including her children’s names, and a photograph of Eadeh meeting pro-democracy activists including Joshua Wong Chi-fung.
Also attending that meeting were Nathan Law Kwun-chung and other members of local political party Demosisto.
“I don’t think that leaking an American diplomat’s private information, pictures, names of their children – I don’t think that is a formal protest. That is what a thuggish regime would do,” US State Department Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said at a news briefing in Washington after the paper’s report was published.
The Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong denounced Ortagus’ remarks “as a blatant slander against China” that “has confounded right with wrong and again exposed US gangster logic and hegemonic thinking”.
The US legislative action has gained momentum as demonstrations, some violent, have continued into a fourth month to sporadically block major thoroughfares and other transport infrastructure in Hong Kong. Rubio’s bill now has 22 cosponsors, representing more than a fifth of the Senate, up from seven when he introduced it in June.
Thousands attended a rally in Hong Kong late on Friday to raise concerns over a remote police holding centre, following allegations of maltreatment of anti-government protesters detained there.
That protest went ahead despite Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announcing on Thursday that police would stop using the San Uk Ling Holding Centre, near the border with mainland China, for arrested protesters.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, sponsored by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, would also ask the US Commerce Department to “consider appropriate adjustments to the current United States export controls with respect to Hong Kong to prevent the supply of crowd control and surveillance equipment that could be used inappropriately in Hong Kong”.
That component of the legislation overlaps with another House bill introduced this week, called the PROTECT Hong Kong Act, which would prohibit US companies from exporting so-called non-lethal crowd control items such as tear gas, as well as defence articles and services, to Hong Kong.
PROTECT Hong Kong was introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this month by Jim McGovern, a Democrat representing Massachusetts, with two cosponsors. That number has since risen to 25.
Another version of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 was passed by the US House of Representatives’ foreign affairs committee on Wednesday.
The House version was sponsored by New Jersey Representative Chris Smith, a Democrat, and has 40 cosponsors as of Thursday.
If both bills pass floor votes, they would need to be “reconciled” by a joint committee before the legislation is sent to US President Donald Trump for signing.
“Senator Rubio and his Senate co-sponsors are working with House colleagues to enact this important legislation as soon as possible,” a spokesperson for the Florida senator said.
Earlier provisions in Rubio’s bill, including a requirement to sanction Chinese officials deemed responsible for “undermining basic freedoms in Hong Kong”, remain.