Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) plans to make good on the threats he leveled against Chinese human-rights violators in a recent Senate floor speech by introducing legislation on Thursday that would slap sanctions on government officials involved in the totalitarian crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, according to details of the bill obtained by National Review.
The “Hong Kong Be Water” Act, which is co-sponsored by Republican senators Rick Scott of Florida and John Cornyn of Texas, condemns the Chinese government for violating the civil liberties obligated to Hong Kong citizens, and calls for punishing the transgressors by freezing their personal financial assets.
Hawley and Scott drafted the legislation after witnessing the protests first-hand during a visit to Hong Kong last month.
“Protesters told me it was important to ‘be water’ — meaning, move quickly and be fluid when confronted by police,” Hawley said. “Make no mistake about it: Hong Kong is rapidly becoming a police state. We must send a signal to the world that the United States will stand with Hongkongers as they stand up to the Chinese Communist Party.”
Scott added that he “heard horrible stories of police brutality, threats, and intimidation. As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue.”
The bill calls for freezing the assets of Chinese nationals and state-owned enterprises that help suppress “Hongkongers’ freedoms of speech, association, assembly, procession, and demonstration.” The sanctions would be applied under the Magnitsky Act, which allows the U.S. to target the personal financial interests of human rights abusers anywhere in the world. Passed in 2012, the bill is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax accountant who was beaten to death in a Russian prison after uncovering massive financial corruption at the highest levels of Russian government.
Chinese and Hong Kong authorities — which includes Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, a Beijing ally — potentially fall under the sanctions for having taken a heavy-handed approach in cracking down on civil unrest.
The protests began in June in response to an extradition bill that would have allowed Beijing to extradite Hong Kongers to face trial in mainland China. The goals of the demonstrators have since expanded and now include calls for broader human rights and pro-democracy reforms.
The Hong Kong government, with backing from Beijing, has used tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, and recently live ammunition on the millions of protestors. Despite the harsh measures, Hong Kong formally removed the extradition bill last week, citing “conflicts in society.”
In addition to criticizing the Chinese and government, and certain elements of the Hong Kong government, for their response to the protests, Hawley has also taken aim at American companies he believes have placed profit over patriotism. He’s been especially vocal in denouncing the National Basketball Association’s handling of a pro-democracy tweet sent by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
Morey, who tweeted on October 4, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” faced heavy backlash from the NBA’s Chinese sponsors and partners, and prompted a statement from the league which called Morey’s actions “regrettable.”
Hawley sent a letter on October 7 to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, asserting that “for the NBA to kowtow to the demands of one of the world’s most brutal regimes in the pursuit of profit is, frankly, revolting.”
“What is regrettable is the NBA’s downright eagerness to appease the authoritarian thugs in the Chinese Communist Party in order to make a buck,” Hawley said in an op-ed published Wednesday. “This is a time for choosing. The NBA and other multinational corporations like Apple, which assembles every iPhone and most of its other products in China, can certainly choose to do business in the Chinese market if they like. But they owe it to their American customers, they owe it to this country, to take a stand.”
During his speech on October 23, Hawley urged that it was high time for America to defend against the assault on Hong Kong’s democratic norms.
“The situation in Hong Kong is urgent, and the people of Hong Kong are looking to the United States and to other freedom-loving peoples around the world for support and for strength,” Hawley stated. “It’s time that we sent them the message and that we called on our allies to do the same, that we must stand with Hong Kong, because our own security and our own ideals are at stake.”