Congress Unveils New Hong Kong Bill

November 14, 2014 Updated: November 15, 2014

With ongoing pro-democracy protests—the so-called “Umbrella Movement”—in the background, the U.S. Congress proposes to revive a law that scrutinizes the political situation in Hong Kong.

On Nov. 13, The Congressional-Executive Commission on China revealed its Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which indirectly supports the ongoing student-led Umbrella Movement striving to bring genuine universal suffrage to Hong Kong.

If passed, the bipartisan bill would revive a provision in U.S. law requiring scrutiny of political reforms in Hong Kong. Under a 1992 law, the U.S. government was required to make annual reports to Congress regarding political developments in the former British colony. In 2000, the provision was retracted and the reports ceased.

“Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms—essential to its relations with the U.S.—are under threat from China,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Execution Commission on China.

According to a Nov. 13 statement by the commission, the new legislation would update the 1992 United States-Hong Kong Policy Act “by reinstating and strengthening the U.S. State Department’s annual report to Congress” regarding key developments in Hong Kong.

Before the handover of Hong Kong to China, the Chinese authorities promised to maintain the British colony’s special autonomous status, enshrined in its Basic Law, until at least 2047. But in recent years, Beijing has given the people of Hong Kong increasingly little say in the choice of their city’s leaders.

“At this critical time, we must strongly support the universal rights of the people of Hong Kong, including free and fair elections in 2017 and beyond,” Brown said.

Congressman Chris Smith, co-chairman of the commission, called the “steady erosion” of Hong Kong’s autonomous status a “concern for freedom-loving people everywhere.”

“Hong Kong’s unique system has ensured prosperity and spurred the type of creativity and vitality that only comes with the advancement of fundamental freedoms.”

A Senate hearing will be held on Nov. 20 to discuss the future of democracy in Hong Kong. According to Brown, it will examine China’s commitments to Hong Kong in light of the ongoing pro-democracy protests.