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Congress Holds New Hearing on Human Rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang; Lawmakers Seek Speedy Action

Published: October 20, 2021
Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., chairman of the China Committee began a recent hearing noting that the People’s Republic of China continues to crack down on the people of Hong Kong. (Image: KEVIN DIETSCH/AFP via Getty Images)

“Hong Kong democracy activists urged members of the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to pass legislation to combat human rights abuses in the city, rejecting any suggestion that such a move would be inappropriate U.S. involvement in another country’s affairs,” Reuters reported on Oct. 19. 

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), chairman of the China Committee, began the hearing by noting  that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to crack down on the people of Hong Kong and Uyghurs. At the same time also seeks to repatriate those who seek protection in other countries, such as threatening the Turkish government with stopping the supply of the COVID-19 vaccine if it does not repatriate Uyghurs who have escaped to that country. 

Merkely discussed specific ways with Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NY), who said he wouldn’t mind breaking down the bill to protect Hong Kong people if it helps pass faster.

Earlier in the year, Malinowski added the Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act, which he promoted and proposed to give Hong Kong people priority in visa and immigration applications to other China-specific bills before Congress for consideration. Also pending in the current Congress are the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act and the Uyghur Human Rights Protection Act.

At the meeting, Republican Rep. Chris Smith, speaking via video, urged the government to widen the door. At the same time, Malinowski said it was good that President Biden signed a memo in August to delay deportation of Hong Kong residents for 18 months but that the threat of long-term prosecution of some of them would be difficult to resolve in a short time. Committee co-chairman Mike Gowan also said that the current progress in protecting human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang is too slow and that both Washington and Congress must take more measures.

Responding to a question from the committee chairman about the counterproductive effect of passing a bill that could make the Chinese government block the departure of highly skilled Hong Kong residents, Malinowski said that Congress should speed up, 

Former International Student Group member Zhang Kunyang, who is in exile in the United States, attended the hearing as an advisor to the Hong Kong Democratic Commission. He cited the example of Joshua Wong, who had participated in the hearing and is now in prison, as an example of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Hong Kong and urged Washington to assist oppressed Hong Kong people in coming to the United States and integrate into local life. 

Uyghur poet Tahir Hamut Izgil also attended the hearing. He spoke about the plight of those who have been in the U.S. for four years and still have not obtained citizenship and remain in Xinjiang. Olivia Enos, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, called on the U.S. to join with other allies to take in more Hong Kong people and Uyghurs.

Wong, “secretary-general of Hong Kong’s now-disbanded pro-democracy Demosisto party and leader of the “Umbrella Movement, described police brutality and said Beijing was benefiting from Hong Kong’s special economic status while denying “our freedom.”

“This is not a plea for so-called foreign interference. This is a plea for democracy, singer and activist Denise Ho told the CECC hearing.”