June 04, 2020

Hearing on the Crisis in Hong Kong: A Review of U.S. Policy Tools

Testimony Before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

Submitted Written Testimony

Chairman Crapo, Ranking Member Brown, Honorable Members of the Committee—

It is an honor to be asked to testify to you today on an issue of critical importance to U.S. foreign policy, “The Crisis in Hong Kong: A Review of U.S. Policy Tools.”

You have invited me to testify on a somber day. This is not only because of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the demonstrations and unrest against injustice in the United States that have we have seen over the past week, but because today, June 4, marks the anniversary of the massacre that ended two months of pro-reform protests in Tiananmen Square, one of the darkest days for democracy in modern China. Earlier this week the Hong Kong authorities denied, for the first time in decades, a request for a permit to hold a memorial vigil in Hong Kong to mark Tiananmen. Yet as I reflect on China’s repression thirty-one years ago, I cannot help but think of the iconic photo of an anonymous Chinese protestor staring down a line of Chinese tanks, which remains an inspiration to people everywhere of the power we all possess to stand up for justice in the face of repression.

China’s erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy over the past decade, including Beijing’s announcement last month that China will force a new national security law on Hong Kong that China may use to punish pro-democracy activists and protestors in the city, should be seen not as a unique act, but rather as one element of the Chinese government’s growing global assertiveness and challenge to liberal democracy. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has become more anti-democratic both at home and abroad. China’s growing assertiveness against countries, entities, and individuals that express support for democratic values, whether it is the National Basketball Association here in the United States or the assistance that China increasingly provides other authoritarian states to track and repress their own citizens, poses a serious threat to freedom and democratic values everywhere.

I believe that four principles should guide the U.S. response to China’s attacks on Hong Kong’s autonomy:

  • First, hold China to account while mitigating unintended costs to the people of Hong Kong. The Chinese government, not the people of Hong Kong, should bear the brunt of the costs of China’s erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy. While the United States should not indefinitely treat Hong Kong as legally distinct from China in many respects if China does not treat Hong Kong as autonomous, shifts in specific U.S. laws should be tailored to specific Chinese actions and changes in specific areas be structured to help rather than harm Hong Kong citizens.
  • Second, ensure that the U.S. response to China’s erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy fits within the context of America’s overall strategy towards China. The U.S. response to Hong Kong is not only about Hong Kong. It is also about signaling to China what future types of Chinese actions are unacceptable and the kinds of U.S. responses that future actions will draw. Our response also has to recognize that despite America’s rivalry with China and justified anger at many of China’s actions, the U.S.-China relationship continues to include important economic and strategic interests and that the U.S. will need to work with China on global threats such as climate change.
  • Third, use the full range of tools. Faced with Chinese aggression, there is an understandable desire to impose costs by denying China financial and economic privileges. Measures such as targeted sanctions can and should play an important role in highlighting repression. But other policy responses, such as diplomatic engagement and offers of visas to Hong Kong citizens, can be equally powerful.
  • Finally, the United States must galvanize a global coalition and live up to our own values. Aside from a handful of countries such as the United Kingdom (U.K.), the international response to China’s planned new national security law for Hong Kong has been disappointing. The United States must galvanize a global coalition to bring diplomatic and other forms of pressure to bear to highlight the steady erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy. But we must be honest with ourselves: in recent days protests in global cities from London to Auckland have been focused on the developments here in the United States rather than developments in Hong Kong. Police abuses of unarmed men and women and U.S. security forces using riot Testimony of Peter E. Harrell June 4, 2020 control equipment to disperse peaceful protestors profoundly undercuts U.S. leadership. While governors and mayors are justified in taking steps to protect our own cities from violence, the world is watching our response and judging it and us. By failing to live up to our ideals, we will be making the world less just, less safe, and less free.

I plan to address three specific areas of U.S. policy responses in my remarks today: treating Hong Kong more like China under U.S. law, holding China to account in ways that advance overall U.S. strategy, and building a global diplomatic coalition. But first, I would like to briefly address how China has eroded Hong Kong’s autonomy over the past decade.

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