Updated: Jul 26
It has been almost three years since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) instituted the National Security Law (NSL) in Hong Kong in July 2020. The law – implemented in response to largely peaceful protests throughout 2019 and 2020 – has been used to reshape the political landscape of the city-state. The NSL granted the CCP the unfettered ability to meddle in every aspect of life in Hong Kong, effectively dismantling the rule of law and judicial system that made Hong Kong an attractive destination for international business. The NSL has also led to the jailing of pro-democracy activists, the closure and muzzling of much of the free press, and substantially ceded power from Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
In response, the U.S. President decertified Hong Kong’s special status, making clear that Hong Kong was no longer sufficiently autonomous from the PRC to merit separate treatment under U.S. law. Since then, the U.S. government has undertaken valiant efforts to disentangle itself from the apparatus that secured Hong Kong’s unique treatment under U.S. law. These efforts have been coupled with policies to support the people of Hong Kong. But as of today, many of these efforts remain incomplete and require an update.
Because of the precipitous decline in Hong Kong’s protections of freedom and human rights, many have assumed that there is little that can be done to respond. Hong Kong has even been labeled as a lost cause. While it may be true that – in the short-term – it is unlikely that Hong Kong will revert to its previous freedom-loving, semi-autonomous state, it is inaccurate to say that there are no tools at the U.S. and the international community’s disposal to hold the CCP and Hong Kong officials accountable and alleviate the suffering of the Hong Kong people.
A decision to accept Hong Kong’s fate would result in a repeat of past U.S. foreign policy failures. In essence, it would decouple security-driven policy from human rights-based policy when crafting U.S. policy toward China. Hong Kong is a reminder of the consequences of failing to stop Beijing when they undermine the rights and freedoms of Chinese citizens domestically. This outcome reveals a faulty assumption baked into U.S. policy: that Beijing’s undermining of the rights and freedoms of its own citizens has no consequences beyond its own borders.
The U.S. – in concert with the international community – should pursue a three-pronged strategy that seeks to achieve the following objectives: 1) hold officials and entities in the PRC and Hong Kong accountable for the role they played in undermining freedom in the city-state; 2) support the people who – by choice or by force – remain in Hong Kong; and 3) assist Hong Kongers seeking freedom beyond the borders of the city-state. Any U.S. policy aimed at addressing the situation in Hong Kong should be done with broader U.S. policy toward China in mind with the ultimate goal of undermining the CCP’s increasing control over Hong Kong.
To read more, download the PDF above. Olivia Enos is the Washington Director for the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation (CFHK Foundation). Frances Hui, Advocacy and Policy Coordinator for the CFHK Foundation, provided invaluable research support in the production of this report.