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September 17, 2019

King: Hong Kong an “Island of Democracy in a Sea of Repression”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) questioned experts about the troubling disconnect between the freedoms promised in Hong Kong and the increased control the Chinese state is imposing upon its citizens. During a hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Senator King asked Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China, to describe the feelings of the population of mainland China toward the freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong citizens and potential next steps in this unique relationship.

“I'm struggling with the fact that we have an island of democracy in a sea of repression,” said Senator King. “You've got a country which now seems to be perfecting the control state. Millions of cameras, facial recognition, oppression of the weaker, religion, everything, and yet you’ve got Hong Kong. You have two societies moving in the opposite direction. Very briefly, what's the solution or is there one? Where does this end? … Is there any sympathy for the Hong Kongers within the mainland? Is there a nascent – I wouldn't call it a democracy movement but at least a freedom, freedom of expression movement or is the government in such firm control that's a fantasy? Give me a picture of where this goes.”

In response, Hom expressed that Hong Kongers are the front line in the fight against China’s growing authoritarianism, and highlighted repressive tactics such as targeting the family members of protesters.

Senator King has been an outspoken supporter of the rights of Hong Kong’s citizens to protest in defense of their freedoms. In June, he joined a bipartisan group of his colleagues to issue a statement of support for the millions of citizens protesting the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong. That same month, he also was part of a bipartisan coalition that introduced the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which requires the President to issue a strategy determining whether to revise the U.S.-Hong Kong extradition agreement and the State Department’s travel advisory for Hong Kong. He has also criticized the nation’s treatment of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities; in November, he introduced bipartisan legislation that calls for high-level U.S. engagement on this issue, including the application of Magnitsky and related sanctions.

Other witnesses at today’s hearings included Joshua Wong, Secretary General of Demosist? and “Umbrella Movement Leader; Denise Ho, pro-democracy advocate, singer and actress; Sunny Cheung, Spokesperson, Hong Kong Higher Education International Affairs Delegation; and Dan Garrett, PhD, author of Counter-hegemonic Resistance in China’s Hong Kong: Visualizing Protest in the City. Senator King closed his testimony by thanking the witnesses for their courage, noting that speaking out against Beijing is a personal risk but also a vitally important way to advocate for democratic values.

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