It’s been 25 years since the United Kingdom transferred control of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China. That transfer was made with the promise by Beijing that for fifty years Hong Kong would be allowed a high degree of autonomy, and that the people of Hong Kong would be guaranteed their fundamental freedoms.
The PRC has broken its promise, however, and made a sham of the “One County, Two Systems” framework established under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. As National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement on the 25th anniversary of the transfer, “We have witnessed the dismantling of Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and the unprecedented pressures on the judiciary, the stifling of academic, cultural and press freedoms, and the coerced disbandment of dozens of civil society groups and news outlets.”
In 2019, millions of Hong Kongers took to the streets in protests that started with controversial extradition legislation. In response, Beijing passed the so-called National Security Law, which has served as a pretext for Hong Kong and PRC officials to stifle dissent.
“Authorities have jailed the opposition, with many imprisoned for over a year,” noted Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a separate statement. “Hong Kong leaders have raided independent media organizations, shuttered museums and removed public works of art, weakened democratic institutions, delayed elections, prevented vigils, disqualified sitting lawmakers, and instituted loyalty oaths. . .They have done all of this in an effort to deprive Hong Kongers of what they have been promised.”
In a recent policy address to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, then U.S. Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau Michael Hanscom Smith noted that Beijing’s actions “have shaken the institutions and practices that have been the basis of the international confidence that Hong Kong has long enjoyed.” The people of Hong Kong are suffering and many businesses and young professionals are fleeing a city where stability and adherence to the rule of law are rapidly eroding. Consul General Smith said U.S. officials have a simple message for their Hong Kong and PRC counterparts: “Let Hong Kong be Hong Kong.”
NSC Spokesperson Watson said, “We call on the PRC to act in accordance with the international obligations it willingly undertook.” And the United States continues to urge the release of those unjustly detained.