Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest movement, the David to China’s Goliath, is calling out to the land of the free for help—and help may be on the way. The question is whether it will be substantial enough and fast enough, and have the support of the president of the United States.
For months now, a small but zealous contingent of American flag-waving protesters has been a fixture of the huge demonstrations in Hong Kong, including today, when dozens of people again carried the U.S. flag during a rally held in defiance of a police ban. As the struggle to resist China’s tightening grip on the semiautonomous region has intensified, protesters have appealed to the United States in larger numbers and with greater urgency. Last weekend, tens of thousands of protesters marched near the U.S. consulate in the territory, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and carrying signs that urged President Donald Trump to “liberate Hong Kong.” Perhaps more realistically, they also issued a practical plea: for Congress to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which would grant the United States further means to defend the territory’s freedoms and autonomy.
Faced with Trump’s scattershot approach to the ferment in Hong Kong, which doesn’t rank as a high-priority issue for his administration, activists are placing their faith in legislation that ultimately will only be as effective as the executive branch’s willingness to implement it.
Nevertheless, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, one of the sponsors of the bill in the Senate, is optimistic that the U.S. government will deliver on its promise. That scene near the consulate a week ago was a vivid reminder that America is still a potent “symbol of democracy and freedom” around the world, he told The Atlantic. The protesters “see a country where people vehemently disagree on public policy and say horrible things about each other, but no one goes to jail for it,” he noted.