Pro-democracy lawmaker James To has said that he believes a new US law to punish Hong Kong officials who harm human rights and freedoms in the city will receive a two-thirds majority and be passed soon.

To said he has maintained connections with US politicians and their staff, think tanks, and the business sector, among others. He says he estimates that the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act may be passed within months as Congress resumes in September.

He said people in the US have been watching Hong Kong protests in awe.

James To and Ip Kin-yuen. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

“There is a very positive impression of Hong Kong people among the US people, politicians and the government – that Hong Kong people are really strong, with millions of us persisting over our rights and freedom,” he said.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that the Congress will begin working to pass the bill. US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also warned of Washington reassessing Hong Kong’s special status under the US-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.

On Monday, G7 leaders meeting issued a statement concerning Hong Kong’s situation: “The G7 reaffirms the existence and the importance of the 1984 Sino-British agreement on Hong Kong and calls for avoiding violence.”

US visit

To, alongside democrats Ip Kin-yuen, Alvin Yeung and Dennis Kwok, went on a recent trip organised by the US State Department to Montana. They met the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation and four US congressmen and senators, including Steve Daines, Greg Gianforte, Hank Johnson and Thomas Suozzi.

Four pro-Beijing lawmakers were invited as well, but only Regina Ip and Felix Chung decided to go.

Lawmakers James To, Ip Kin-yuen, Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Regina Ip and Felix Chung in Montana. Photo: Regina Ip/Facebook.

To said the meeting was the first time Hong Kong lawmakers met their US counterparts on an equal status in the form of a “friendship group exchange.”

To and Ip Kin-yuen said they spent hours speaking to the US politicians, which demonstrated that the Hong Kong issue was high on their agenda.

Ip said he heard two versions of the US stance. On one hand, he echoed To’s understanding that the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act will pass very soon: “They were very concerned about Hong Kong issues, and they believed the existing policy [towards Hong Kong] was not enough to protect US interests and Hong Kong’s human rights and democracy,” he said.

US Congress. Photo: Office of the Speaker.

However, Ip said another possibility is that US foreign policy would be in line with the administration, and US President Donald Trump has not given a clear stance on the bill.

“Nonetheless, the bill has high bipartisan support in Congress,” he said. “If the new act is tabled, I think it will be passed.”

‘No consensus with Regina Ip’

At a press conference on Monday, Regina Ip claimed that the six lawmakers had reached a consensus on two issues: Hong Kong should not be harmed in the US-China trade war, and there should not be any punitive measures against Hong Kong by the US.

However, Ip Kin-yuen said that, during the visit, he and To disagreed with everything Regina Ip said over protesters’ demands and democracy in Hong Kong.

“The only consensus could be that we all want the [extradition] bill to be withdrawn,” Ip said. “And we all want to maintain Hong Kong’s special status.”

James To and Ip Kin-yuen holding a draft of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Ip Kin-yuen said the meeting was under Chatham House rules, and Regina Ip should not have quoted them “to put words in our mouths.”

The Civic Party also issued a statement saying that they supported the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

Lawmakers Alvin Yeung and Dennis Kwok said that they explained the “police abuse of force” to different sectors of the US during their extensive trip, to let the world know that Hong Kong protesters were not rioters, and were only trying to get the government to respond to demands.

“Responding to Regina Ip’s so-called consensus: There was never any such thing,” they 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.