A top US politician has warned Beijing that there would be “real and painful costs” to any crackdown in Hong Kong.

Mitch McConnell, the US Senate majority leader, wrote a strongly-worded op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, titled “We Stand With Hong Kong.” It comes as the city enters its 11th week of protest against the ill-fated extradition law, amid wider calls for democracy.

“Sooner or later, the rest of the world will have to do what the protesters are doing—confront Beijing,” he wrote.

Mitch McConnell. Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

McConnell said the turmoil was the result of Beijing’s systematic ratcheting up of its domestic oppression, and its pursuit of hegemony abroad.

“Years ago, it was reasonable to think that China’s rapid development and integration into the global economy might lead it to embrace prevailing international rules, that success would give Beijing a stake in the systems that uphold peace and prosperity. Now it is clear the Communist Party wants to write its own rules and impose them on others,” he said, citing Beijing’s suppression of freedoms in Tibet and Xinjiang.

McConnell said Beijing faces a choice over whether to intensify pressure on Hong Kong, as the international community considers its response.

Last week, thousands of Chinese military personnel gathered at a sports stadium in Shenzhen bordering Hong Kong.

McConnell’s op-ed came after calls for the bi-partisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act to be passed as Congress resumes in September. The law would will punish Hong Kong officials who suppress freedoms in the city.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

The senator wrote the US-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, giving Hong Kong a special trade status with the US, different from mainland China. Its status is approved by the US president only if Hong Kong is considered “sufficiently autonomous.”

“This special access to the U.S. and other nations helped drive the investment and modernization that have enriched Hong Kong, and Beijing by extension. Beijing must know the Senate will reconsider that special relationship, among other steps, if Hong Kong’s autonomy is eroded,” McConnell said.

“I support extending and expanding the law’s reporting requirements to illuminate Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong.”

Photo: May James/HKFP.

He said every nation trading with China, as well as democratic countries that value individual liberty and privacy, has a stake in the current situation.

“Their choice is not between the U.S. and China but between a free, fair international system and the internal oppression, surveillance and modern vassal system China seeks to impose,” he said.

Although Hong Kong was only one piece of the complex set of interests that made up the US-China relationship, McConnell said, China’s treatment of Hong Kong will shape how the US approaches other key aspects of the relationship.

“As Beijing grapples with growing domestic unrest and slowing economic growth, it should pause before threatening a key engine of its growth and provoking the international community. Beijing can step back from chaos to pursue freer and fairer trade and greater respect for sovereignty and human rights. These basic steps can ensure a more prosperous and peaceful future for all of our citizens,” he said.

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Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.