It’s Time To Remove Hostile Chinese Outposts
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Last September, the Smithsonian Institute hosted a gala called “Classy, Sassy, Jazzy Hong Kong Night” at the behest of Washington, D.C.’s Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (HKETO). Patrons drank and dined amid vibrant music and celebrated the “diversity and vitality” of Hong Kong’s culture. It was a beautiful but morbid mirage, because while the Washington elites had their fun, the people of Hong Kong languished under the oppression of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—the very entity that controls D.C.’s HKETO.

The United States is home to three HKETOs, all of which enjoy diplomatic privileges and immunities. These were granted under the assumption that Hong Kong would remain free from communist rule. But three years after China imposed the National Security Law on Hong Kong, we must deal with a new reality.

The city that was once a bastion of freedom in a sea of oppression is now governed by puppets of the CCP, who have become as oppressive as their masters in Beijing. Today, Hong Kong unjustly detains political prisoners at a rate only surpassed by a handful of authoritarian countries, such as Belarus, Cuba, and Burma. This is bad news for a city desperately seeking to maintain its reputation as a center for business and investment.

Hong Kong’s political prisoners include dozens of pro-democracy leaders. Some of these names are renowned: Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong, Tonyee Chow, Gwyneth Ho, and Lee Cheuk-yan. Last year, we at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) nominated them for the Nobel Peace Prize. But most of Hong Kong’s political prisoners are unknown in the United States and Europe. They are university and high school students, medical workers, first responders, lawyers, teachers, businesspeople, journalists, and municipal policymakers. These prisoners skew young—159 of those unjustly detained are minors, and 75 percent of them are under 30. But apart from that, they are just ordinary men and women, whose only “crime” is standing up to the CCP.

The HKETOs are complicit in persecuting them. The offices serve Beijing’s propaganda arm in the United States, defending communist oppression and obscuring the truth. In addition, they help the CCP track exiled Hong Kong activists in our country. Anna Kwok, the Executive Director of the Hong Kong Democracy Council, has a million-dollar bounty on her head for offending the Hong Kong government. She testified at a recent CECC hearing that officials from Washington, D.C.’s HKETO—the same office that hosts high-class art events at the Smithsonian—gathered information on her team for Beijing.

This must stop. The United States should not be granting diplomatic privileges and immunities to a network of communist spies. This is why we worked with our colleagues on the CECC, Representative Jim McGovern and Senator Jeff Merkley, to introduce the HKETO Certification Act, a common-sense and bipartisan bill that would remove those privileges and immunities and—so long as the HKETOs remain in operation—ban federal agencies from cooperating in their propaganda efforts and human rights violations. In other words, no more “Classy, Sassy, Jazzy Nights” while Hongkongers remain unjustly detained.

Our bill passed the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations this July. It passed a similar hurdle in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last week. We urge Congress to get it to President Biden’s desk as soon as possible. While Hong Kong once stood as a beacon of liberty in East Asia, that Hong Kong no longer exists. For the sake of those who labor and suffer to restore the city’s liberties, we must adjust our policies to the current, oppressive reality.

Marco Rubio is the senior U.S. senator from Florida and Christopher Smith is Represenative for New Jersey's 4th Congressional District. Rep. Smith chairs The Congressional-Executive Commission on China and Sen. Rubio is a member of the commission.