Rep. Christopher Cox

U.S. House of Representatives

Expressing Support for Freedom in Hong Kong

September 13, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman from Florida for yielding me this time. I thank the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) for his kind words but mostly for his strong efforts in behalf of not only democracy in Hong Kong but around the world. I rise in support of H. Res. 667, which expresses the sense of this House in support of freedom and democracy and self-determination for the people of Hong Kong.

   Nearly 2 million of Hong Kong's 7 million people voted yesterday and pro-democracy advocates won 25 out of the 30 seats that they were eligible to compete for. But the other half of the 60 seats in the LegCo were not elected through universal suffrage because those seats were decided by so-called functional constituencies, effectively controlled by Beijing. Many observers have compared the functional constituencies to Britain's ``rotten boroughs,'' where a handful of malleable voters held all the power.

Genuine democracy should be allowed under Beijing's oft repeated slogan of “one country, two systems.” It ought to be allowed because it is what the people of Hong Kong want. But at present neither Hong Kong's chief executive nor most of its lawmakers are democratically elected. Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa, shortly after taking power in 1997, assured this Congressman and the United States Congress that, quote, further democratic evolution will depend on the wish of the Hong Kong people. Seven years later, the People's Republic of China has not made good on that promise.

   We have been here before.

   Last year, the House passed H. Res. 277, responding to a direct threat against freedom in Hong Kong, a Communist-backed law designed to restrict free speech and civil liberties in the guise of punishing subversion. Just days later, more than a half million people in Hong Kong demonstrated against the proposed law. In combination with American and international outrage, this courageous demonstration of people power resulted in a tactical victory for freedom. The law so far remains shelved.

   But this year Beijing has returned with a new tactic. Since it is easier simply to prevent democratic elections than it is to completely crush free speech, the Communist regime simply ruled out any possibility of democratic elections for chief executive in 2007 and for the legislature in 2008. They did this on April 6 of this year without even consulting the people of Hong Kong as is required by the basic law. This new interpretation of the basic law bars the legislature of Hong Kong from any actions towards electoral reform until Beijing has granted its blessings. Beijing then sought to ensure that what little democracy the people of Hong Kong were allowed to exercise would be severely manipulated.

   These intentions became clear on May 5 of this year. On that day, just a few months ago, the People's Republic of China sailed eight PLA warships down Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong. This overt show of military force, which was the first time that this has happened since the handover in 1997, included four frigates, two submarines, two destroyers, and all the sailors standing at attention atop their vessels. The display left little doubt as to how seriously the Communist regime viewed the question of fully democratic elections and their intention not to have them.

   At the same time, the People's Republic of China began a campaign of harassment and intimidation against Hong Kong's pro-democracy activists. As my colleague from Florida (Ms. Ros-Lehtinen) has described, in early May of this year Albert Cheung, a well-known radio host and columnist, was forced to flee Hong Kong after receiving threats against his life from PRC officials. Mr. Cheung left behind an audio recording. It detailed threats of violence made against him and his family. Shortly thereafter, his replacement on the show, Allen Lee, was also forced to quit broadcasting, citing the need to protect his family. He received a late-night threat by telephone from a PRC official who referred pointedly to his wife and his daughter. Media outlets in Hong Kong have been silenced through commercial pressure for supporting or even just reporting on democratic views. Chinese property developers, for instance, boycotted advertising in the Chinese language Apple Daily newspaper for daring to report on the July 1 pro-democracy demonstrations. This industry has always been the largest ad buyer for the paper. Pro-democracy legislative candidate Alex Ho was detained under suspicious circumstances on a business trip to the mainland in early August. He was accused of consorting with a prostitute and sentenced to 6 months without a trial. According to Asian media outlets, Hong Kong media moguls who steered their outlets towards Beijing's wishes in the run-up to yesterday's elections have been rewarded with political titles and easier mainland China market access.

   In mid May, numerous Hong Kong voters called in to local radio shows to report that they were pressured to vote for Beijing's preferred candidates. Several callers reported being contacted by relatives on the mainland and told that if they did not vote for pro-Beijing candidates, their relatives on the mainland would face severe consequences. Human Rights Watch has recounted in a 42-page report on September 9 that one caller reported, quote, a senior staff member of my company asked me to vote for pro-Beijing candidates instead of pro-democracy candidates. To make sure I have done that, he told me to take pictures of my completed ballot with my mobile phone camera.

   As the PRC learned to counter potential freedom through the Internet, so has it learned to twist the freedom of wireless communication into just another tool of oppression. On May 19, the office of legislator Leung Yiu-chung was defaced with excrement. This vandalism closely followed Leung's support in the legislature for a pro-democracy resolution. In June, vandals set fire to election posters in the office of pro-democracy legislator Emily Lau and wrote, quote, Chinese traitors must die on the wall outside.

   In July, Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption, an anticorruption body admired worldwide, became just another blunt instrument of Communist rule, raiding the offices of local newspapers, including the South China Morning Post, Apple Daily, Oriental Daily News, the Sun, and Sing Tao. Even the ostensibly pro-Communist Ta Kung Pao newspaper was not spared. Some investigators remained on the scene for up to 10 hours. Journalists' homes were searched and many were not so cordially invited for further questioning. Since the commission is answerable to Hong Kong's unelected chief executive, C.H. Tung, it is unlikely that orders came anywhere but from the top.

   All these examples constitute a strange melding of criminal elements. The director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, Law Yuk-kai, has said, quote, we believe the Ministry of State Security and Hong Kong triads are collaborating in this political violence and intimidation. Yet this campaign of intimidation and harassment had a goal more important than simply winning yesterday's elections. It was about the PRC making Hong Kong voters understand that supporting democratic forces carries a heavy price. Despite the very real threats from the Communist regime, the people of Hong Kong still went to the polls in record numbers and they returned a near totality of the democratically elected seats in the LegCo. The people of Hong Kong have shown that they will not be intimidated or silenced.

   Stephen Vines wrote in the Hong Kong Standard on August 4, 2004, ``Those of us who work in the media have been accused of crying wolf far too often, but maybe we have not cried wolf often enough.'' According to Vines, the way to prevent such erosions of freedom is not to wait for dramatic events like editors being murdered in Russia or newspapers being forcibly closed in mainland China. ``If we need to wait for the worst before speaking out,'' he said, ``we will have waited too long.''

   More than 400 academics declared in an advertisement in the Apple Daily newspaper on May 27 that, quote, in the face of autocratic and political pressure, we will not be silent. The people of Hong Kong know that they must defend their democracy and their way of life against Communist oppression. Now it is up to us to remind them that the American people stand with them.

   This House demands that Beijing guarantee all revisions of Hong Kong law reflect the wishes of the people of Hong Kong as expressed through a fully democratically elected legislature and chief executive. A high degree of autonomy is what was promised to the people of Hong Kong in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. Hong Kong's Basic Law stipulates that Beijing has authority over defense and foreign affairs but that Hong Kong itself should have autonomy for most domestic affairs, driven by an independent electoral democracy. Beijing's attempts this year, as in the past, constitute a blatant violation of the rights of the people of Hong Kong, of the Basic Law and of the People's Republic of China's treaty obligations.

   An act of this Congress, the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act, directly ties our commercial interests in Hong Kong to the freedom of Hong Kong's people. The President of the United States has the authority under the act to suspend many of the special treatments we extend to the territory in areas including export controls, customs, air service and cultural and educational exchange because Beijing's ham-fisted violation of the Hong Kong autonomy violates that act. The Communists were caught off guard by the massive popular demonstrations in July, both this year and last. For ages, Beijing has maintained the belief that any complaints about autonomy and democracy were really veiled economic frustrations, that the people of Hong Kong could be satisfied with some economic sweeteners. Now perhaps the Communist regime may begin to understand. Business interests can be purchased and bureaucratic machinery can be controlled, but the hearts and minds of the people of Hong Kong are not for sale.

   Mr. Speaker, yesterday's elections were part of a broader fight for the soul of Hong Kong and ultimately the future of China. We believe that Communist China must follow Hong Kong's example of freedom, not the other way around. Hong Kong's 7 million people remain the best hope for freedom and democracy for billions of other people in China and throughout Asia.

See the original in the Congressional Record on Page H7007, and H7008

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