China can end Hong Kong protests by stopping its heavy handed treatment of the region

Mass civilian protests in Hong Kong are now entering their third month and are continuing to shed light on the deterioration of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) influence outside of mainland China. Rising resentment in Hong Kong is not simply a result of the ill-fated extradition law championed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, but the continued encroachment on freedom and liberties by President Xi Jinping and the CCP – which are now taking a violent turn.

As the 1997 agreement between Great Britain and China states, Hong Kong is to “enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defense affairs,” effective until June 30, 2047. This mutual understanding is the basis of the “one country, two systems,” arrangement under which Hong Kong now operates. Despite this agreement, leaders in Beijing continue their high-intensity political pressure campaign to subdue dissent within Hong Kong, which has inadvertently emboldened the people of Hong Kong to stand up against Beijing.

Twenty-two years into the agreement, the CCP has finally pushed too far. By proxy, Chief Executive Lam, who is widely regarded as being handpicked by Beijing, has pushed to pass a Beijing-backed extradition bill that would allow individuals arrested in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial. This bill has exposed deep concerns over the Hong Kong government’s legitimacy and was so unfavorable, that estimates of more than one-quarter of the 7.3 million Hong Kong residents took to the streets on June 16, 2019, to protest the legislation.

Three months later, the grievances of these protestors have expanded and now include five demands: withdraw the extradition bill, officially retract descriptions of the protests as “riots”, drop charges against protestors, launch an investigation into the police force and universal suffrage which would allow voters to directly pick their leaders without Beijing’s involvement.

In response to this unrest, the CCP, through acts of ignorance, has continued to cast blame on the United States and other democratic nations for “interfering” in Hong Kong’s internal affairs and encouraging mass civilian protests.

On Aug. 14, 2019, in response to tweets by me and my colleagues, the Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement that said, “I cannot help asking the relevant Senators and House representatives: are you lawmakers or lawbreakers? Hong Kong affairs are entirely China’s internal affairs, and you are neither entitled nor qualified to wantonly comment on them. Mind your own business and stay out of Hong Kong affairs.”

I agree these are internal issues between Hong Kong and China. However, when international agreements are broken by one party, then the perpetrator of that violation invites outside scrutiny. That is why I choose to speak out again about China’s lack of honor to these international agreements.

This extradition law does not only affect the people of Hong Kong but would also apply to U.S. citizens and citizens from any nation who reside in Hong Kong – making this anything but “internal.” The CCP will continue to blame Western nations for standing with the people of Hong Kong, as the party’s biggest fear, is freedom in their own backyard.

Regardless of falsities that are streaming out of Beijing, it is not the actions of the U.S. or any other nation that have spurred mass unrest in Hong Kong, but Beijing’s heavy hand over the sovereign region. CCP’s true intent is the complete autocratic control of Hong Kong. Not after 2047, but as soon as possible.

To this extent – Beijing is not simply using threatening rhetoric. China has deployed large numbers of paramilitary personnel close to the border with Hong Kong, which can be viewed as sending a message to the protestors in Hong Kong. In addition, China’s characterization of the Hong Kong protests as “turmoil” — the word it used to describe protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 — has fueled rumors that another crackdown was being planned.

I urge China not to make the same mistake they did 30 years ago in Tiananmen Square by bringing violence and murder into this struggle. The choice is up to China and the Chinese proxy, Carrie Lam. They and they alone can resolve this simply by removing the extradition law. I will continue to hold China accountable to international agreements and continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong and their personal liberties and freedoms. Let’s hope Xi Jinping chooses wisely.

Congressman Ted S. Yoho (R-Fla.), lead Republican for the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation.