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How America Can Help Hong Kong's Democrats

4:42 PM, Jan 23, 2006 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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Kin-ming Liu, former Washington-based columnist for Hong Kong's Apple Daily, writes in to the Worldwide Standard with some suggestions. He states:

"The time is now to place Hong Kong on the front burner of President Bush's democracy enlargement agenda.

The administration of Chief Executive Donald Tsang, squeezed by the growing demand for democracy in Hong Kong and ongoing disdain for it in Beijing, proposed some Beijing-backed political 'reforms' that were defeated recently by pro-democracy members of the Legislature Council.

Beijing officials reacted to the defeat by accusing the U.S. of making 'rash comments on Hong Kong affairs for quite a period of time, violating the principle of non-interference in other countries' internal affairs.' Referring to Hong Kong as 'China's Hong Kong' and 'China's internal affairs,' Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang asked the U.S. to refrain from any comments or acts that would interfere in China's internal affairs and place obstacles in the way the Hong Kong government operates. A Hong Kong government official also expressed 'disappointment' with the U.S.: 'We would not wish any foreign governments to give the impression that they were meddling in Hong Kong's affairs.'

Of course, the comments of U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack the day after the vote were, in truth, quite ordinary and tame: 'We believe the people and the Government of Hong Kong should determine the pace and scope of political reform in accordance with the Basic Law. The people of Hong Kong have repeatedly expressed their aspiration for progress towards democracy and their desire for a firm commitment to the implementation of universal suffrage. We support those goals and believe that the sooner a timetable for achieving universal suffrage is established, the better.'

One could dismiss the above exchanges as diplomatic routine. But I believe the fact that China would even choose to rebuke such a non-revolutionary statement is telling. What Washington thinks of Hong Kong must matter to Beijing. Otherwise, why bother? In fact, to Beijing, what Washington thinks of Hong Kong always matters more than what the people of Hong Kong think of their own home.

Chinese protests mean America is hitting where it hurts. Washington should increase and not decrease pressure at this point. It can't be overemphasized that what the outside world is trying to do is simply to ask China to fulfill its own pledges on Hong Kong, not to make new demands or create new issues. Here are a few suggestions for consideration.

1. The issue of democracy in Hong Kong should be added to the sundry list of issues American officials raise with their Chinese counterparts every time they meet.

2. The U.S. Consulate-General in Hong Kong should raise its profile and be the first whistle blower of any further violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

3. Washington can always use the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 as the basis to stop treating Hong Kong as a separate entity from China should Hong Kong lose its autonomy. Afterall, why should Hong Kong receive special treatment from the U.S. if its political climate is indistinguishable from that of other Chinese cities?

4. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House International Relations Committee should hold hearings on Hong Kong on a regular basis, particularly after the release of the annual U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act report and the State Department human rights report. Nothing beats congressional scrutiny on how China is treating Hong Kong and, more importantly, what the U.S. administration is doing about it.

China no doubt wants to keep Hong Kong as an internal matter. But the Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, was an international agreement registered at the United Nations. Support of the agreement from the international community, America's included, was widely sought and obtained by China. When China promised Hong Kong 'one country, two systems,' Beijing wanted the whole world to applaud. But when China breaks the promise of letting 'Hong Kong people run Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy,' Beijing now expects everyone to turn a blind eye.

Will the world's governments blindly obey?"