June 04, 2020

Van Hollen Urges Senate Action on Bipartisan Legislation Sanctioning China for Interference in Hong Kong’s Autonomy

On Anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre, Van Hollen Emphasizes Importance of Supporting Basic Freedoms at Home and Abroad; Witnesses Point to Importance of Van Hollen, Toomey Hong Kong Autonomy Act

In today’s Senate Banking Committee Hearing, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) spoke on the need for swift congressional action on his and Senator Toomey’s Hong Kong Autonomy Act, bipartisan legislation to sanction individuals, firms, and banks eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy. During the hearing, which was held on the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Senator also underscored how the President’s recent actions against peaceful American protestors has undermined our ability to speak out against human rights abuses abroad.  

“It is essential, in my view, that the United States take action to stand up for the important principles that the people of Hong Kong, in the streets, are standing up for,” Senator Van Hollen said. “It’s important that Congress, again on a bipartisan basis, make sure that we deploy the full arsenal of tools at our disposal in terms of sanctioning. Our bill provides secondary sanctions on the banks that help support and are complicit in helping individuals who in turn have been working to undermine human rights and democracy in Hong Kong. And we think it’s important that Congress move forward on this. I do want to emphasize, again, that today the Trump Administration has plenty of authority to take steps immediately.”

Senator Van Hollen emphasized the need to send a strong message to the Chinese government, especially as President Trump’s actions this week threaten to undermine U.S. legitimacy on defending democracy abroad. 

“It is a reality that we witnessed something right here in Washington, D.C. that I never thought I would witness in my lifetime. And that was the President of the United States, along with the Attorney General, Secretary of Defense, and others, deploying military police to break up a peaceful assembly outside the White House –in order to make way for the President to have a political stunt in front of historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, not far from the White House. They deployed rubber bullets. They deployed tear gas against people who were peacefully gathering to protest against injustice around the country. For the President of the United States to be part of that undermines his credibility, and the credibility of the United States – and speaking with a strong, unified voice when it comes to standing up for human rights. Now, we all know that is not our system of government in the United States. We all know that was an exception. In fact, I never imagined it would ever happen in the United States. That’s the kind of thing that happens daily in Hong Kong. That’s why it’s important we take action to prevent that kind of suppression of free speech,” he said.

Senator Van Hollen acknowledged the timeliness of both the legislation and today’s hearing, as the world recognized 31 years since the Tiananmen Square Massacre – a day when the Chinese government used military power to murder their own citizens, who were peacefully protesting for democracy.

“The current President of the United States, back at that time, was celebrating the brutal tactics of the government of China in Tiananmen Square, and that just brings me back to why we need to act on a bipartisan basis here in the United States Congress,” he said.

In addition, two witnesses at today’s hearing expressed strong support for the legislation.

Mr. Eric Lorber, Senior Director of the Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP) Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said, “I think the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which you introduced with Senator Toomey, is a well-designed piece of legislation. If the purpose of sanctions, in the context of Hong Kong, are really to deter the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] from further undermining the rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, the legislation does get at that because it creates a deterrent impact by saying – first, if you undermine the rights, you’ll be added to this list where there are discretionary sanctions at the first instance, and if you continue to engage in that activity, then those sanctions become mandatory – that’s both for the person that’s listed and for certain financial institutions that are directly supporting them. And I think that’s a very smart way to do it because it creates a deterrent impact and it creates an incentive to change behavior over time.”

Mr. Peter Harrell, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security, went on to also commend the legislation, stating, “I agree with what Mr. Lorber said about the Act. The other point I would make on the Act is, I actually think it fills a gap in existing sanctions laws, including the Hong Kong Freedom and Democracy Act that many members of this committee worked on in November. That Act enables the targeting of individuals involved in physical acts of repression – arbitrary arrest, detentions, those kind of things – whereas your proposed, new legislation would broaden the ambit I think in an important way to get at more generalized erosions of freedom and autonomy in Hong Kong that don’t necessarily rise to the level of act –  the kind of specifically targeted detentions – that we’re targeting in the legislation from last November.”

Details on the Hong Kong Autonomy Act are available here.