The PJ Tatler

White House 'Closely Watching' Hong Kong Protests; China Says Butt Out

The White House said Monday it supports “the aspirations of the Hong Kong people” as thousands have filled the streets in defiance of the Chinese government to demand democracy.

The Occupy Central movement is protesting law that requires Beijing to approve chief executive candidates, and the PRC today warned other countries against siding with the demonstrators.

“I have read the news reports about this. I can tell you that the U.S. government is closely watching the situation in Hong Kong,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today when asked about the protests. “Around the world — so this is true in Hong Kong and other places — the United States supports internationally recognized fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of expression. The United States urges the Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint and for protesters to express their views peacefully.”

Protesters have been using a sea of colorful umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas and pepper spray being fired at crowds, thus earning the movement the nickname “Umbrella Revolution.”

“The United States supports universal suffrage — universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the basic law. And we support the aspirations of the Hong Kong people,” Earnest continued. “We believe that an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy, and governed by the rule of law is essential for Hong Kong stability and prosperity. Indeed, this is what has made Hong Kong such a successful and truly global city to this point.”

“But we have consistently made our position known to Beijing, and will continue to do so. We believe that the basic legitimacy of the chief executive in Hong Kong will be greatly enhanced if the basic law’s ultimate aim of selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage is fulfilled. We also believe that the legitimacy of the chief executive will be enhanced if the election provides the people of Hong Kong a genuine choice of candidates that are representative of the peoples’ and the voters’ will.”

When asked if the White House would like to see Hong Kong demonstrators’ demands of free speech and democracy extended to mainland China as well, Earnest replied  “the short answer to that is yes.”

“The longer answer is that we make a point out of every interaction with Chinese — senior Chinese Government officials that respect for basic universal human rights is critically important. There’s no question that it’s the foundation of our democracy,” he continued. “We believe that it should be the foundation of any government and that that respect for an protection of basic universal human rights is an important principle and it’s a principle that is raised every time that a senior member of this administration is dealing with a senior member of the Chinese Government.”

President Obama travels to Beijing in November, and Earnest said “the president will certainly raise that the protection of basic universal human rights is critically important.”

“That’s something that the president has done in every interaction that he’s had with the Chinese leadership and I’m confident that that will be part of the conversation that he is looking forward to having in November.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying stressed at a press conference today that the “central government firmly opposes all kinds of illegal acts in Hong Kong that undermine the rule of law and sabotage social security and fully believes and strongly supports the lawful handling of the case by the Hong Kong SAR government.”

“We have noticed remarks made by certain countries. I’d like to reiterate that Hong Kong is China’s Kong Kong, which is a special administrative region of China,” Hua said. “Hong Kong affairs fully fall within China’s domestic affairs. We hope that relevant countries can be prudent in their words and deeds, refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Hong Kong in any way, stay away from supporting the illegal acts such as ‘Occupy Central,’ and do not send out wrong signals.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) noted that he wrote Secretary of State John Kerry two weeks ago about China’s undermining Hong Kong’s autonomous status.

“The people of Hong Kong want nothing more than what those in free countries around the globe have: the right to peacefully assemble, speak freely and choose their own leaders. The protesters have taken to the streets peacefully, with nothing more than umbrellas in hand. The security forces use tear gas and threaten greater force,” Rubio said today in a statement.

“They use police investigative powers to intimidate free press and those who support rights of free association. Meanwhile, the government in Beijing censors news and information about developments in Hong Kong to those on the mainland, going so far as to block social media sites such as Instagram.”

Rubio said the Obama administration “must make clear that any violence against peaceful protesters will have significant consequences for U.S.-China relations.”

The senator added he was “disheartened” by the reaction of the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong: “We do not take sides in the discussion of Hong Kong’s political development, nor do we support any particular individuals or groups involved in it.”

“It is longstanding U.S. policy, enshrined in the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, to support democratization in Hong Kong and to support the human rights of the people of Hong Kong,” Rubio said. “America should be on the side of those in the street peacefully protesting for their fundamental freedoms.”