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  • Writer's pictureXiaodong Fang

Do this, not that. 3 Tips for U.S. activism promoting Hong Kong/China's democracy and human rights

Updated: Sep 26, 2019

The "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act" designed to support democratic freedoms in Hong Kong by increasing pressure on Chinese authorities has been introduced to the U.S. Congress. Though some media and public believed that U.S. bill has received strong bipartisan support in Washington, its potential to becoming law and the consequential effectiveness is still questionable. As an expert in U.S. politics, I would like to offer three strategic tips to help those promoting democracy and human rights for Hong Kong and China.

Protestors waving U.S. flag in Hong Kong. Photo from Unsplash

Tasks and Challenges

The first thing to notice is that asking for U.S. support and concrete actions to engage in foreign (domestic) affairs is difficult. It’s hard for U.S. Congress to fully engage in the foreign affairs about Hong Kong and China, which are not directly, significantly, and urgently mattering to the U.S. interests. An intuitive perception of bipartisan support doesn't mean a potential majority roll-call voting. Members of Congress have many factors to consider before their congressional behaviors, and of course, they may change their minds any time before a roll-call voting.

Next, once a bill has been passed by both Houses, it will need the signature of the President in order to become law. Whatever his current altitude is, the President may also change his mind and veto the passed bill. Since President Trump is known for his flip-flops, we can not foresee the firm support of his signing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law.

Thirdly, and most importantly, we need concrete U.S. actions to support democracy and human rights for Hong Kong and China, rather than a nominal harsh stance towards China. Thus, even the bill will be signed into law,

more efforts are needed to ask for the U.S. to execute the law, and to effectively urge China to improve its practice on democracy and human rights.


1. Focus on issues, not on Members

Linking the claims on democracy and human rights to the relevant U.S. domestic issues may attract more attention of the public and media, and make it more likely to enhance the support of U.S. politicians. We have seen that Hong Kong/Chinese activists are pushing certain U.S. Congressmen to support the related bill. They pursue on Members of Congress from different political parties, such as Senator Marco Rubio (R), Senator Chuck Schumer (D), and Senator Angus King (I). Yes, their current rhetoric is influential. But they're not enough. As mentioned above, Members of Congress, as well as the President, are unbound in roll-call voting and may change their minds any time. But what they could not ignore is the public opinions of their Constituents, and voters. Once the Hong Kong/Chinese activisms are linked to domestic issues, they will be "automatically" caught the attention of the media and the public, and then raise the concerns of more Members of Congress. Here is a list of some potential issues to link:

  • Democracy in Hong Kong/China -> U.S. voting rights, election reforms

  • Human right in China -> civil rights, abuse of immigration detention

  • Uyghur Re-education camp -> racial equality

  • China's cyber-attack & mass surveillance -> U.S. tech companies, privacy issue, hackers in U.S. elections

  • etc.

Additional list can be found on the similar "China-bashing" topics/issues.

2. Go local, not international

Many Americans concern more on their local issues than on foreign affairs. Making the claim a local issue is essential to generate a wider and firmer U.S. domestic support. Members of Congress are representing their local states/districts, and the President should also seek local support as the Electoral College allocates the electing power to the states. Once you can mobilize the Constituents in the local/district/state levels, domestic pressure to the MCs/President will probably become strong enough to generate enhancive responses on Hong Kong and/or China.

Here you can find the local events of the 2020 elections.

3. Look ahead for the long-run, not down in a short period

Just as the "sublime" strategy I proposed for the pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong and potentially in China, the activism in the U.S. should also be transformed from high-concentrated proclamations to long-term, localized lobbying in the following months or years. Keeping a long term U.S. support on Hong Kong and China's democracy and human rights requires constant media coverage and public attention on those relevant issues. Thus, activists need to efficient the efforts and extend the influence for a longer period.

One way to do this is shifting the burden to other political players and utilizing the "free" media to expand the claims to a large audience. Once the pro-democracy and human rights claims have been spread by those influential players, the effect of the activism will also be extended for a longer period.

The ongoing 2020 presidential elections and campaigns provide a good opportunity for Hong Kong/China activism to spread the influence over the course of the campaign periods. My personal experience is a good example. Before the third Democratic presidential debate on September 12, I use social media (twitter/facebook) to press presidential candidates to bash China in the debate.

The strategy worked as all candidates mentioned China in the debate (they criticized the president's handling of negotiations with China); Yang and Buttigieg suggested they’d continue to use tariffs as leverage; Buttigieg defended #HongKongProtests; Castro condemned China’s abuses against Uighur. China issues (harsh stances towards China) became a "winner" in the debate. And we can foresee more enhancive discussions on China's wrongdoings during the 2020 campaigns, which would keep the U.S. pressures on the Chinese government to change its practices on democracy and human rights.


Founder's Words:

I hope the activism in the U.S. can work to mobilize the U.S. to promote democracy and human rights in Hong Kong and China. I also believe that with the help of the U.S., China can change, and eventually turn into a democracy in the future.

Dr. Xiaodong Fang

Founder of China Bashing


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