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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


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Mrs. BLACKBURN. Madam President, this past Sunday, hundreds of thousands of protesters filled the streets of Hong Kong to remind Beijing that totalitarianism will no longer go unchallenged.

I was reading a New York Times article about this protest when I came across a particularly striking quote. When asked why she had taken to the streets, a 24-year-old biology researcher named Alice said:

We want Hong Kong to continue being Hong Kong. We don't want to become like China.

7, 2019]

Hong Kong Protest, Largest in Weeks, Stretches Several Miles (By Javier C. Hernandez and Elaine Yu)

Hong Kong.--Hundreds of thousands of protesters, basking in a recent election victory by Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp, poured onto the city's streets on Sunday in one of the largest marches in weeks to pressure the government to meet demands for greater civil liberties.

The huge turnout was a reminder to China's leader, Xi Jinping, that the monthslong campaign against his authoritarian policies still had broad support in Hong Kong despite a weakening economy and increasingly violent clashes between protesters and the police.

Tensions in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous territory, had eased somewhat in recent days, after pro-democracy advocates won a stunning victory in local elections two weeks ago, giving new hope to the movement.

On Sunday, demonstrators returned in force, packing city streets to denounce Mr. Xi's government, rail against police brutality and reiterate demands for greater civil liberties, including universal suffrage. They beat drums, sang protest anthems and chanted, ``Fight for freedom.'' Though the march was largely peaceful, some demonstrators vandalized shops and restaurants and lit a fire outside the high court.

``We want Hong Kong to continue being Hong Kong,'' said Alice Wong, 24, a biology researcher who stood among protesters gathered at Victoria Park. ``We don't want to become like China.''

As many as 800,000 people attended the march, according to Civil Human Rights Front, an advocacy group that organized the gathering.

The mood at the march was relaxed, with people taking selfies against a backdrop of the vast crowds. Children, some dressed in black, marched with their parents, holding hands as they shouted, ``Stand with Hong Kong!''

A sea of protesters, spread across several miles, filled major thoroughfares as they moved between towering skyscrapers. In some areas, there were so many people that the crowds moved at a snail's pace and spilled into adjacent alleys. Some small businesses encouraged the turnout by promising giveaways if more than one million people joined the march.

The protesters said they intended to remain peaceful on Sunday, but some vowed to use more aggressive tactics if the police cracked down. In the evening, the police readied canisters of tear gas as they stood opposite crowds of protesters who had barricaded a street downtown in a briefly tense moment.

The large turnout could further embolden the movement's confrontational front-line protesters, who said they planned to disrupt the city's roads and public transportation system on Monday. The call for further action seemed to resonate among some protesters on Sunday.

``If the government still refuses to acknowledge our demands after today, we should and will escalate our protests,'' said Tamara Wong, 33, an office worker who wore a black mask as she stood among the crowd gathered at Victoria Park.

The protesters have demanded amnesty for activists who were arrested and accused of rioting, as well as an independent investigation of police conduct during the demonstrations.

Despite the show of strength on Sunday, it is unlikely that the protesters will win further concessions from Beijing, which has worked to portray demonstrators as rioters colluding with foreign governments to topple the governing Communist Party.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University, said that even though Sunday's march showed the protest movement remained strong and unified, Beijing was unlikely to listen to its demands.

``Hong Kong is condemned to live in a permanent political crisis as long as China is ruled by the Communist Party,'' Professor Cabestan said.

Mr. Xi, who has cultivated an image as a hard-line leader, has demanded ``unswerving efforts to stop and punish violent activities'' in Hong Kong. He has publicly endorsed the city's beleaguered leader, Carrie Lam, and her efforts to bring an end to the unrest.

Chinese officials have suggested that the United States is responsible for helping fuel unrest in Hong Kong, pointing to statements by American officials in support of the protests. Last month, President Trump signed tough legislation that authorizes sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for rights abuses in Hong Kong. The move was welcomed by many protesters but also seen as exacerbating tensions between the two countries.

In a possible sign of increased scrutiny of American citizens working in Hong Kong, two leaders of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said on Saturday that they had been denied entry to Macau, a semiautonomous Chinese city. Mr. Xi is expected to visit Macau this month to mark the 20th anniversary of the former Portuguese colony's return to China.

Tara Joseph and Robert Grieves, the president and the chairman of the American business group, said they had planned to attend an annual ball put on by the chamber's Macau branch.

``We hope that this is just an overreaction to current events and that international business can constructively forge ahead,'' Ms. Joseph said.

The protests, which began in June in opposition to a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, have hurt the tourism and retail sectors, pushing the city's economy into recession.

In recent weeks, the violence has escalated, with protesters intensifying their efforts to vandalize businesses they associate with hostility to the movement. The police shot an antigovernment protester last month, inflaming tensions. Then, in some of the worst violence, universities became battlefields, with black-clad students hurling gasoline bombs, throwing bricks and aiming arrows at the riot police, who shot rubber bullets and fired tear gas in return.

Many demonstrators acknowledge that a compromise with the government is unlikely, despite recent victories. Mrs. Lam, the city's leader, who is under pressure from Beijing to restore order without weakening the government's position, has brushed aside their demands and has warned that the mayhem could ``take Hong Kong to the road of ruin.''

Government officials have cast the demonstrations as primarily centered on economic issues, arguing that vast inequality in Hong Kong has exacerbated anger among the city's youth. They rolled out emergency measures recently to counter the effects of the turmoil on the economy, including providing electricity subsidies to businesses and expanding job training for young people.

The authorities have justified their efforts to crack down on the movement by saying that protesters are endangering public safety. On Sunday, the police said they had found a 9- millimeter semiautomatic pistol, five magazines, 105 bullets and two ballistic vests, as well as fireworks, among other items, during a series of early morning raids.

Senior Superintendent Steve Li of the Hong Kong Police said early in the day that officers had received information that the firearm and fireworks would have been used on Sunday to create chaos.

The police have in recent months banned many protests and rallies in Hong Kong, citing safety concerns. But the government granted a rare approval for the march on Sunday, which was held to mark the United Nations' Human Rights Day.

Demonstrators said they believed that the turnout sent a strong message: The protest movement would not back down.

``If the government thinks that we will give up,'' said Adam Wong, 23, a university student who was waving a black flag, ``today's turnout will prove them delusional.''

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mrs. BLACKBURN. Madam President, Alice's statement is loaded with historical context and correctly implies that what we are seeing now is the culmination of a slow but sure violation of the laws and norms that once defined Hong Kong's semiautonomous relationship with mainland China. These protests erupted after what Beijing argued was a simple proposed change to existing extradition laws, but the people saw it for what it was--a thinly veiled threat to Hong Kong's relative autonomy. It wasn't a takeover. It was just that foot in the door, and China is nearly unparalleled in its ability to turn a foot in the door into a permanent existing condition.

Sometimes their power plays are very obvious, and sometimes they are not. On my recent trip to Djibouti, I saw firsthand the influence of China's debt-trap diplomacy.

Here is what debt-trap diplomacy is. It is a fancy way of saying that China has increased its influence around the world by offering to struggling nations that they are going to hold their debt in exchange for preferential treatment on trade or maybe a physical presence such as a port or other sweetheart deals.

In Djibouti City, I saw this tactic run wild. Now China would say that what they have done is to help the Djiboutians create a ``smart city'' in the Horn of Africa, but in reality they have negotiated their way into creating a full-blown surveillance state.

Cameras are everywhere--on every corner and every street, with 24/7 footage--and guess where that footage lands. Beijing. They have even tried to point one of those cameras at our military base, right at the entrance to Camp Lemonnier.

Debt-trap diplomacy is bold. It is obvious. If that is all you see of China, it is easy to assume that all of their tactics are that bold and obvious. As I said, they will go after you in obvious areas and also in areas that are not as obvious.

Even domestically, China's surveillance state is notoriously the opposite of covert. Their domestic ``smart city'' program has outpaced that of every other country on the face of the Earth and the majority of their $70-plus billion budget for that project has been spent not on intelligent power grids or traffic management systems or on clean air or clean water, but it is being spent on surveilling their own citizens.

The greatest danger China has created by engaging in brash and at times absurd surveillance and suppression is that it has created a false sense of security here in the West when we don't see the evidence of what they are doing. In the United States we are not particularly vulnerable to their debt trap, but we are vulnerable to less obvious attempts to get that foot in the door.

In some form or another, most Americans have allowed Big Tech to take hold of a portion of their lives. Smartphones and cloud storage once were very novel, but now we assume that even simple transactions come predicated by an additional condition. Everything is free as long as the app or the service has access to--guess what--your data. They want to own your virtual you.

Popular apps like TikTok, whose parent company is based in China, have left me with more questions than answers about the platform's business practices, privacy protections, and ideological loyalty to the Communist Party. Consider that the U.S. Army has barred soldiers from using TikTok. Everybody needs to understand this. The U.S. Army has said: You cannot use TikTok. This very body has expressed our concerns on a bipartisan basis with the platform's censorship and data handling practices.

It is no wonder that TikTok's chief executive officer canceled this week's scheduled meetings here in DC with Members of this body. The fact that millions of Americans, especially our American children, continue to offer their personal data to TikTok is beyond disturbing, but we will not be able to roll back the creeping surveillance state without setting our own standards for what is acceptable from both foreign and domestic companies.

When I introduced the BROWSER Act earlier this year, I did so not only to give Big Tech solid guidelines regarding data privacy and content but to set a new standard for what consumers expect from Big Tech. Our problem here in this country is pretty much one of awareness and of understanding that the exact same philosophy drives China's surveillance programs and their less obvious but much more personal individual monitoring schemes--their surveillance state scheme.

China's Communist Party is after more than just ad revenue and more complete data sets. Their goal, as those Hong Kong protesters put it, is to trick other countries in becoming more like China, which is not tilting toward freedom but tilting away from freedom.

My goal with the BROWSER Act and with my focus on what has become the surveillance state is to do the exact opposite--to enable freedom, to encourage freedom, not only here but around the globe--and to make certain that consumers here decide how much of their data they want to be able to share. We must make certain that we continue to support the cause of freedom wherever human beings show up to protect the freedoms they have.

Recognition of Minority Leader

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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