U.S. congressmen have expressed concern at Beijing’s “interference” in Hong Kong’s elections and warned that the special status enjoyed by the semi-autonomous city under U.S. law may be reassessed if the situation deteriorates.

“Beijing’s clear interference in these elections is yet another example of a precipitous erosion in Hong Kong’s long-cherished autonomy,” senator Marco Rubio, who chairs the Chairs of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said in a statement on Monday, a day after the chief executive election.

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio. Photo: Gage Skidmore, via Flickr.

Rubio criticised Sunday’s chief executive election, saying it failed to fulfill Hongkongers’ demands for universal suffrage and a truly representative government.

His co-chair, representative Christopher Smith, said Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam was “clearly Beijing’s favored candidate, just like her predecessors.” He warned that Beijing’s backing enjoyed by Lam would make it “exceedingly difficult” to tackle the erosions of Hong Kong’s autonomy and rule of law.

“If Hong Kong is to become just another mainland Chinese city under the new Chief Executive’s leadership, we will have to reassess whether Hong Kong warrants special status under U.S. law,” Smith warned.

Christopher Smith
Christopher Smith (second left). Photo: Christopher Smith, via Facebook.

He added: “It is in everyone’s interests that Hong Kong remain a free and prosperous bridge between China and the West, but the city’s unique vitality and prosperity are rooted in its guaranteed freedoms.”

Occupy crackdown

In his statement, Rubio also highlighted the recent police crackdown on leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests. He urged Lam to work on political reforms that are consistent with Hongkongers’ democratic aspirations.

“[They are] aspirations which animated the 2014 Umbrella Movement and which remain alive and well today,” he said.

International human rights watchdogs, such as Amnesty International Hong Kong and Freedom House, have condemned the prosecution decisions.

occupy police
Police crackdown on the Occupy protests in 2014. Photo: HKFP.

See also: Hong Kong Occupy leader Benny Tai ‘willing to plea guilty’ as police crack down on pro-democracy figures

Nine leaders of the Occupy protests are facing various charges of public nuisance. Law professor Benny Tai, one of those targeted, said he is willing to plead guilty if the charges against him are factually accurate, as a guilty plea aligns with the spirit of civil disobedience.

It is not the first time U.S. congressmen have spoken up against Beijing’s meddling in Hong Kong’s internal affairs. Last month, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators reintroduced a proposal that would establish heavy punishments for Hong Kong or Chinese officials responsible for suppressing basic freedoms in the city.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.