(CNSNews.com) – Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents, some waving American flags, marched to the U.S. Consulate Sunday, urging Congress to quickly pass legislation providing for U.S. responses to Beijing-instigated rights abuses or attempts to erode the territory’s autonomy.
“President Trump, please liberate Hong Kong,” read a large blue banner and numerous posters held by demonstrators, some of whom also sang along to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” piped through loudspeakers.
“Resist Beijing! Liberate Hong Kong! Democracy Now!” protesters chanted, alluding to concerns about an erosion of freedoms in the former British colony, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees it would continue to enjoy a “high degree” of autonomy for at least 50 years.
Representatives handed a petition to an official from the consulate in the city’s Central district.
Visible on some placards were words that drew parallels between Hong Kong residents’ appeals to the U.S. government and American colonists’ looking to France for support during the War of Independence. “We, Hongkongers and Americans, are united by our yearning for freedom and dignity,” they read.
The march proceeded peacefully, but later fresh clashes erupted between some protestors and baton- and teargas-wielding riot police officers, and incidents of arson and vandalism were reported at subway stations.
Senior U.S. lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), have been vocally critical of the authorities’ response to the protests.
Last week, Pelosi reiterated an earlier statement to the effect that when Congress returns from recess, it will “swiftly” advance the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, bipartisan legislation introduced in the House and Senate in June.
“Democrats and Republicans continue to stand united with the people of Hong Kong in demanding the hopeful, free and democratic future that is their right,” she said.
With lawmakers back on Monday, protestors in Hong Kong hope to see action soon.
‘Obstinately sticking to a wrong course’
In Beijing on Friday, Friday ministry spokesman Geng Shuang accused those in the U.S. pushing Hong Kong legislation of “obstinately sticking to a wrong course.”
“Any attempt to interfere in China’s internal affairs, including Hong Kong affairs, is doomed to fail,” he said. “Once again I advise certain U.S. politicians to immediately stop pushing Hong Kong-related legislation, cease interfering Hong Kong affairs at once, and make efforts to enhance mutual trust and cooperation between China and the U.S.”
U.S. policy towards the territory is governed by the 1992 Hong Kong Policy Act. Passed ahead of the 1997 handover, it provides for the president may suspend important trading and economic privileges – enjoyed by Hong Kong, but not mainland China – if it’s determined that Hong Kong is not “sufficiently autonomous.”
The legislation that featured prominently during Sunday’s rally, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, was introduced in the House by Lantos Human Rights Commission co-chairs Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and James McGovern (D-Mass.).
The bill has 21 co-sponsors – 12 Democrats and nine Republicans – bringing together such unlikely allies as Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and “progressive” Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), a member of the so-called “squad.”
The Senate version introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also has bipartisan support, with its nine co-sponsors including the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sens. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).
The legislation would allow for sanctions against Hong Kong officials who commit rights abuses, denying them entry into the U.S. Further, the secretary of state would have to certify to Congress annually “whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous to justify special treatment by the United States for bilateral agreements and programs.”
The mass protests were sparked last June by a proposed law that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland to face trial. The controversial plan was subsequently suspended, and last week withdrawn altogether, but other demands remain unmet.
They include an inquiry into violent police actions, the release and dropping of charges against those detained, the resignation of Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, and greater democratic freedoms – a broad demand that for some means universal suffrage in choosing their leaders, but for others extends to “independence.”