Rights bill gives way to money matters

Editorial | Mary Ma 11 Nov 2019

US Republican senator Ted Cruz wanted the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act to be passed by the Senate soon after a slightly varied version was passed in the House of Representatives by unanimous consent.

But Cruz never had his wish granted - the bill is still stuck somewhere in the Senate and nobody knows if it will see the light of day again.

The senator has every right to feel upset as he is a sponsor of the bill. But it would be wrong for him to blame the White House since President Donald Trump has always been consistent on the matter: it's for Beijing and Hong Kong to resolve the crisis.

And he is not lying about this. Unlikely Taiwan, Hong Kong is not part of Washington's geopolitical plan for the Pacific.

Apart from that remark, has Trump ever expressed any keen interest in the bill? Not as far as I can recall.

The nearest show of interest from the Trump administration came from Vice President Mike Pence who commented that the United States would "stand together with Hong Kong."

Yet even that statement offered little value beyond the collection of words spoken.

Trump's utmost priority for now is to reach a trade deal with Beijing.

He wanted a comprehensive pact in the beginning covering everything from farm products to hi-tech transfer. Now that it's impossible to have a comprehensive deal, a partial one would still be preferable to no deal.

In this light, Cruz cannot accuse Trump of standing in the way of the bill because the president does not want the Chinese to escape from the hook and swim away again.

However, Cruz may be justified in criticizing Senate speaker and fellow Republican Mitch McConnell for backpedaling because the latter no longer appears as keen as before to bring the bill forward for a Senate vote any time soon.

If passed, the House and Senate would reconcile their versions for Trump to sign.

He would most likely agree to sign if the bill were passed unanimously or by a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Then the bill would become law, requiring the administration to review every year the human rights situation and democracy progress in Hong Kong.

It was only three months ago that McConnell expressed solidarity with Hongkongers and promised full support for the bill. He said Hong Kong's crisis had its roots in Beijing, not Hong Kong.

Is McConnell backpedaling because of lobbying by Beijing? That's questionable since Beijing is already putting up a firewall to keep Hong Kong's inferno out of the mainland so it can be handled by the SAR.

It's more likely due to lobbying efforts from the US business community, which fears the act would endanger their commercial interests both here and in the mainland.

History has shown that, whenever it comes to matters of monetary interest, human rights are often the first to be given up in multinational dealings. The longer the bill is left on the Senate's shelf, the more likely it will be left there for good.

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