Hong Kong Leader Suspends US Port Calls as China Retaliates Over Human Rights Bill

By Frank Fang, Epoch Times
December 3, 2019 Updated: December 3, 2019

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam aligned herself with the Chinese regime in her weekly press conference on Dec. 3 over Beijing’s suspensions of U.S. military port calls to the city.

In retaliation against the U.S. government for enacting the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying announced Dec. 2 that Beijing had decided to “suspend reviewing requests of U.S. military vessels and aircraft to visit Hong Kong.”

Lam stood by Hua’s comments, saying that U.S. port visits are an issue of foreign affairs and need the ministry’s approval. Since the foreign ministry was no longer allowing it, Lam said her government also wouldn’t cooperate with the United States in the matter.

Beijing previously has denied U.S. port calls to Hong Kong because of diplomatic disputes. In April 2016, a U.S. carrier strike group led by the USS John C. Stennis was denied entry after the U.S. vessels conducted operations in international waters in the disputed South China Sea.

China claims sovereignty over 90 percent of the South China Sea, even as a United Nations legal judgment in 2016 refuted Beijing’s claims.

An unidentified U.S. Navy official told the Washington Examiner that the suspension won’t affect operations since there are other ports in the region.

The U.S.’s Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Nov. 27, requires the secretary of state to annually review whether the former British colony is “sufficiently autonomous” from mainland China to justify its special economic privileges granted under the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.

As for the new U.S. law, Lam said, “We strongly are opposed to it. There’s no need for it, or any rationale for it.”

She said that people in Hong Kong enjoy a “high-degree of freedom,” such as “freedom of the press and assembly,” and questioned what was “not being protected now.”

“For a foreign government to interfere with Hong Kong’s affairs, I find it regrettable,” Lam added.

Freedom in Hong Kong

After Lam implemented a controversial anti-mask law in October, which barred people from wearing facial masks in public gatherings, New York-based nonprofit Human Rights Watch issued a statement expressing concerns about Hongkongers’ freedoms. The organization called the ban a “disproportionate restriction on peaceful assembly rights.”

In recent months, Hong Kong authorities have several times rejected applications for public assemblies.

Pro-democracy activist group Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), which has canceled multiple planned marches after failing to secure police approval, announced on its Facebook page that it’s currently awaiting police approval for a Dec. 8 march.

Lam said during the press conference that she thinks the new U.S. law will affect business confidence and create instability for the more than 1,300 U.S. companies operating in the city.

Hongkongers have held two different public gatherings in the past week to show appreciation to the U.S. government, particularly Trump, for bringing the measure into law.

When asked about the protests over the past weekend, Lam said it’s regrettable that there had been violence again, with roadblocks and petrol bombs thrown in Kowloon. She added that she had addressed the protesters’ five demands many times, and had no further comment.

On Dec. 1, about 380,000 Hongkongers took to the streets in a peaceful march, renewing calls for all five of their demands, which include universal suffrage and an independent inquiry over instances of police violence against protesters in recent months.

In response to Lam’s press conference, pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting criticized Lam for neglecting instances of human rights violations, according to Hong Kong media RTHK.

The lawmaker cited examples of reporters having been unreasonably dispersed by police while covering protests. He added that the city government’s refusal to grant some public assemblies is also a violation of human rights.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while speaking Dec. 2 at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, urged Beijing to honor the promise that it made to the city in 1997, according to a State Department transcript.

Hong Kong, the former British colony, was handed over to Beijing in 1997, after the two sides inked the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. The bilateral treaty was to guarantee that Hong Kong retain its autonomy from the Chinese Communist Party and its freedoms for 50 years.

“Our efforts are to make sure that those weren’t empty promises that were made to the people of Hong Kong,” Pompeo stated.

Epoch Times staff Annie Wu contributed to this article.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer