Yesterday marked the 14th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, when China’s communist government killed thousands to quell pro-democracy demonstrations. In recent years, Beijing has been welcomed into the World Trade Organization and won the contest to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. But the Chinese communists have not reformed, as evidenced by a gradual erosion of rights in Hong Kong.
On July 9, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council is set to pass what is being called a national security law. The vague wording of the change to the Basic Law — Hong Kong’s mini-constitution — defines subversion as any action construed to seek to “disestablish the basic system of the People’s Republic of China” or “destabilize society.” Treason would cover those souls who merely have “intent to compel the Central People’s Government to change its policies or measures.” There would be no statute of limitations for charging an individual with alleged seditious activity, and the government would have the power to imprison someone for seven years without a trial. Under the Official Secrets Act, journalists could be jailed for reporting any news unfavorable to the government.
This week, a delegation composed of Hong Kong’s most important anti-communist, pro-democracy legislators and activists visited Washington to try to convince policy-makers to pressure Chinese lawmakers to drop plans for the sedition law. Unfortunately, at this time when freedom is under attack, the group was shunned by the State Department and the White House. In years past, Hong Kong’s democrats were welcomed to the U.S. capital by at least the Secretary of State, if not the president. President Bush obviously has been focused on Iraq and the G-8 summit — but there is no excuse for the State Department assigning only low-level bureaucrats to meet with this important group.
As Martin Lee, a member of the Legislative Council and the founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Pary, told us yesterday, “Silence by the State Department sends a very bad message that helps set back democratic progress in China for years. The goal is that China will gradually open up and become more free, but that does not appear very likely as Hong Kong loses its rights and freedoms.” We are encouraged by the strong bipartisan opposition to the proposed sedition law that exists on Capitol Hill, where congressmen ranging from the conservative Chris Cox to liberal Nancy Pelosi are supporting resolutions defending the rights of Hong Kongers. But prompt White House action is now vital. The sedition bill will become law within weeks. Absent sharp presidential criticism, there is little chance Hong Kong’s limited freedoms will survive.
By Elaine Donnelly
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