Statement on the 20th Anniversary of the Handover of Hong Kong

Statement on the 20th Anniversary of the Handover of Hong Kong

Chairs Express Concern Regarding the Long-Term Viability of the “One Country, Two Systems” Model Promised at the Handover

June 29, 2017

(Washington, DC)—Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Chris Smith, the chair and cochair respectively of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), issued the following statements on the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997.  

“Twenty years ago, China promised Hong Kong would remain autonomous under ‘one country, two systems,’ but in recent years Beijing has systematically worked to undermine this promise,” said Senator Rubio. “Elections in Hong Kong are still tightly restricted and controlled by pro-Beijing forces seeking to stifle the voice of the people.   As Hong Kong’s press freedoms deteriorate, the independence of the judiciary—the guarantor of the rule of law—is also under assault.  We will closely watch how authorities in Hong Kong and the mainland handle the 20th anniversary, especially government responses to any peaceful protests in connection with the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.  The city appears to be on lockdown with a significant deployed security presence, and police have reportedly received orders to remove any signs or placards that risk ‘embarrassing’ Xi, including mentions of the Tiananmen Square massacre or calls for universal suffrage and direct elections.  I call for the immediate release of recently arrested pro-democracy protesters.  China’s assault on democratic institutions and human rights is a clear and present danger to the people of Hong Kong and to the city’s status as a free market, economic powerhouse, and hub for international trade and investment. Looking ahead to the remaining 30 years of ‘one country, two systems,’ we cannot allow Hong Kong to go the way of Beijing’s failed authoritarianism.”

 “Twenty years ago, China promised to guarantee Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms for 50 years, promises which have been needlessly strained and calling into question the viability of a ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model that has provided great benefits to China and the world.  It is unfortunate that Xi Jinping will largely see a ‘’Potemkin’’ Hong Kong this week, kept away from the city’s vibrant pro-democracy sentiment and relish for free expression,” said Representative Smith.  “Beijing increasingly views Hong Kong as a problem to be handled not as a model for China’s future—this is a major concern for those of us who see the resilience of authoritarianism in China as a troubling indicator of unwanted conflict and competition.  The preservation of Hong Kong’s autonomy will be a bellwether for U.S.-China relations, demonstrating Beijing’s commitment to fulfill international obligations.  Under President Xi, the Chinese government has conducted an extraordinary assault on civil society and the rule of law, efforts which have spilled over into Hong Kong through abductions of booksellers, interventions in Hong Kong’s legal system and Chief Executive election, and efforts to stifle the pro-democracy movement and a free press.   The genius of Hong Kong and its people has always been their ability to expertly navigate between the interests of Western nations and mainland China—Hong Kong’s unique vitality, creativity, and entrepreneurship rooted in the embrace of freedom, the rule of law, and democratic openness.  If Beijing recognizes that the Hong Kong way of life is essential for China’s own future prosperity and stability then the city’s future is bright.  If that is not the case, and Hong Kong becomes just another Chinese city, subdued by the heavy hand of repression, the United States will have to reassess whether Hong Kong warrants special status under U.S. law.”          


CECC Statements on Hong Kong:  The CECC has held public hearings and events and the Chairs have issued public statements on political and rule of law developments in Hong Kong, including the cases of the abducted booksellers.  Disappeared Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai’s daughter testified at a CECC hearing in May 2016. The CECC’s 2016 Annual Report has a chapter on human rights and rule of law developments in Hong Kong.   The Chairs have also expressed concern about the growing influence of the Chinese central government in Hong Kong and infringements on the city’s promised “high degree of autonomy,” including through the disappearance, abduction, and detention in mainland China of five Hong Kong booksellers, and the unprecedented intervention of the Chinese government in Hong Kong’s legal system leading to the disqualification of democratically elected Legislative Council members.  The Chairs have also expressed concern about the Chinese central government’s interference in recent Chief Executive elections and the prosecution of pro-democracy leaders Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and others associated with the 2014 pro-democracy protests. 

CECC Hearing on 20th Anniversary of the Handover: The CECC held a hearing “Will the Hong Kong Model Survive?: An Assessment 20 Years After the Handover” which featured “Umbrella Movement” leader Joshua Wong, veteran democracy advocate and legislator Martin Lee, former British Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten, and forcibly disappeared bookseller Lam Wing Kee. 

Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act:  Senator Rubio introduced the bipartisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act  (S. 417) in February 2017 in order to reaffirm the United States’ historical commitment to freedom and democracy in Hong Kong at a time when its autonomy is increasingly under assault.  An earlier version of this legislation was introduced in the 114th Congress by Representative Smith in the House of Representatives. 

CECC Analysis of Chief Executive (CE) Election: CECC analysis of the March 2017 CE election concludes that Chinese central government officials sought to determine the outcome of the already highly restricted CE election by pressuring Election Committee members to vote for Carrie Lam.