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Legislators, Rights Advocates Urge More US Action on Hong Kong Reforms

FILE - From right: Prince Wong, Joshua Wong and Isabella Lo walk at the occupied area outside government headquarters during their hunger strike in Hong Kong Wednesday, Dec.3, 2014.

Members of U.S. Congress and human rights groups are urging the U.S. government to do more for Hong Kong’s democracy ahead of a vote next week in Hong Kong on the territory’s electoral reform package.

At a hearing on the democratic developments in Asia on Thursday, Representative Matt Salmon (R-AZ), chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said 2015 is a critical year for Hong Kong’s democracy, but he is skeptical of the electoral reform package.

“I’m very concerned that the freedom fighters are feeling a little bit lonely there [in Hong Kong],” he said.

The controversial package will allow all eligible voters in Hong Kong to choose the next chief executive in 2017, but limit the number of candidates to two or three approved by a nominating committee.

Congressman Salmon, who recently led a congressional delegation to Hong Kong, said the U.S. can do more to embolden democracy in Hong Kong. “Every time we do, China says ‘hands off’ and ‘it’s a domestic issue,'” he said.

But, he said, “any voice we can give collectively as a Congress, as administration to keep that idea alive, as far as universal suffrage in selection of their chief executive, I think that’s really important to them.”

The Obama administration has always said supporting human rights and democracy is a central component to U.S. foreign policy.

At Thursday’s hearing, Scot Marciel, principal deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, told Congress the U.S. believes that “the legitimacy of Hong Kong’s chief executive and its overall governance would be greatly enhanced if the people of Hong Kong were given the opportunity to select their chief executive through a competitive election featuring a meaningful choice of candidates who represent the voters’ will.”

“We have consistently called for an electoral process that would produce that result,” he said.

Some human rights advocates say the U.S. is not doing enough to support Hong Kong democracy.

Sophie Richardson, the China director of Human Rights Watch said, “there are many steps the U.S. can take — speaking up more frequently, being seen, meeting with full diversity of actors of Hong Kong.”

She added the U.S. government’s rhetoric is problematic when it urges “all sides” in Hong Kong to exercise restraint and pursue a compromise.

“In reality, the vast majority of the people in Hong Kong who want genuine democracy have methodically and exhaustively pursued all avenues available to them, only to be ignored,” she said.

The Hong Kong Legislative Council will debate the electoral reform package next week. More protests are expected in the Chinese territory.

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