09.08.20

US Stands with Hong Kong

While the world was distracted, Beijing escalated its threats against Hongkongers, eroded their autonomy, and removed their civil liberties. China's newly implemented security law, which makes secession, subversion, terrorism, and foreign intervention criminal offenses, was immediately met with mass protests from pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong, which predictably led to mass arrests and oppression from China. Hundreds of people yearning to live free have been arrested and jailed as a result.

This is a dramatic change from the joint declaration that China signed 23 years ago granting Hong Kong sovereignty. In short, the communist government of China broke its word.

The people of Hong Kong were supposed to maintain a high degree of autonomy for 50 years and enjoy the basic freedoms they had traditionally enjoyed, including the ability to speak freely, petition their government, and protest peacefully. The premise of the agreement was that Hong Kong and mainland China would be one country but with two systems. Not even halfway into this agreement, China has proven it cannot be trusted to honor its commitments.

Within hours of the law being enacted, evidence appeared of the extreme encroachment the law has on civil liberties and what it will mean for Hong Kong’s people. On the first day alone, nearly 370 protesters rightly expressing their grievances for a free and open Hong Kong were arrested and jailed in the name of national security. Chinese officials detained one individual for simply waving a Hong Kong independence flag. Another was arrested for being a known pro-democracy advocate.

The implications go deeper than public events. The security law also permits Beijing to surveil digital communications and suppress internet activity in Hong Kong. Hongkongers previously had a space to have a political debate on social media to share current events with the rest of the free world. But now the Chinese government censors Hongkongers in the same way it censors mainland China.

Almost immediately, local apps and individuals began self-censorship for fear of repercussions. Companies and Big Tech employees could be arrested or sanctioned if they refused to turn over user data to the government under the guise of "national security" — whether they live in Hong Kong or not. With the very public arrest of journalists in Hong Kong, the message has been clear: no more access to uncensored news and no disagreement with any decisions from Beijing.

But there may be some ways to work around this new reality. Firewall circumvention tech developers and nonprofit organizations in Hong Kong are working to circumvent censorship, but the threat remains. The rest of the free world must act against this suppression. If we fail to do so, this could make the open internet nonexistent.

That is what prompted Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, and myself to introduce legislation to help the people of Hong Kong get access to outside information and have the ability to tell their story to the rest of the world. The recent arrests of four students who were charged with “secessionist speech” online and the leadership of Apple Daily in Hong Kong prove that the Chinese Communist Party’s censorship is expanding to Hong Kong before our eyes. The proposal is a small step we can take toward preserving the rights of Hongkongers.

In the United States, we’ve watched free speech and open, online communication spark change and transactions of thoughts and ideas. Across the Pacific, our neighbors risk their livelihoods for simply trying to enjoy those same freedoms.

Two nations. Two completely different responses.

As we enjoy our freedoms here and watch the implications of Beijing’s law unfold in Hong Kong, I hope we all feel compelled to speak up in support of these freedoms for people across the globe. The internet and social media have allowed humanity as a whole to be more connected than ever before. As we watch China suppress the voices and grievances of Hongkongers, will we feel compelled to speak against this threat to democracy, or will we turn our heads because it doesn’t directly affect our daily lives here in America?

Since China refuses to respect basic human rights, American business and industry leaders should use their platforms to demand change or cut ties rather than be bullied by the Chinese. Why should we reward bad behavior with profit? Social media and tech companies should refuse to comply with the ridiculously oppressive demands for access to private conversations and details of user movements. Turning over user data to communist leaders is ultimately anti-American and complicit, and these companies should uphold our values of civil liberties and free expression. If we don’t speak up for what’s right and demand change, who will?


By:  US Senator James Lankford (R-OK)
Source: Washington Examiner