WASHINGTON: Hong Kong protesters won powerful US backing on Thursday (Oct 9) as a high-level panel urged President Barack Obama to press concerns about democracy with Beijing and called for fresh monitoring of the city’s progress.
The call came in an annual report that renewed criticism of China’s human rights record, saying Chinese President Xi Jinping continues to “adhere to the authoritarian model of his predecessors.”
“Hong Kong has suffered a major setback to its democratic development after China all but ruled out a fair election for Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, as he unveiled the report. Obama should press Xi directly on “issues like Hong Kong” when the leaders of the world’s two major economies meet next month in Beijing, Brown, a Democrat, added.
Parts of the southern Chinese city have been paralysed for more than a week by demonstrations calling on Beijing to grant the former British colony full democracy and for the city’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to resign. Talks between the protesters and the Hong Kong government collapsed on Thursday, when the government pulled out plunging the city into a fresh crisis.
In a highly-critical and unusual rebuke over Hong Kong, the US government commission found Beijing’s actions in recent months to restrict democracy there “raise concerns about the future of the fragile freedoms and rule of law that distinguish Hong Kong from mainland China.”
The panel unveiled moves to revive a 1992 law – drawn up five years before the financial hub was returned to Chinese rule by Britain – under which the State Department had to furnish annual reports on the situation in Hong Kong. US monitoring should “pay particular attention to the development of democratic institutions in Hong Kong and China’s obligations under international treaties and agreements,” the report recommended. The report is likely to spur fresh fury in Beijing, which last week angrily warned Washington to stay out of its “internal affairs.”
The panel also recommended that high-level US officials should visit the territory, as a pointed reminder that Washington is watching what happens there. The last visit to the city by a US secretary of state was by Hillary Clinton in July 2011.
Beijing’s stance over Hong Kong, as well as its crackdown on any opposition, suggested Xi “may exercise greater control and tolerate less dissent than previous administrations,” the report concluded. “It has been another horrific year for human rights in China, no one should still believe that President Xi Jinping will be a new type of Chinese leader, more open to reform and rights protections,” said Republican Senator Chris Smith. Xi “has turned out to be perhaps even worst than his predecessors in terms of human rights and respect for those fundamental obligations enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights.”
The report also highlighted government restrictions on the Internet and attempts to “manipulate news coverage” as well as concerns over forced labor, making 13 recommendations to ensure China complies with international human rights. It further called for US lawmakers to urge the Chinese government to “abolish all birth restrictions for families and instead employ a human rights-based approach to providing freedom to build their families.”