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U.S. Congress considers freedom in Hong Kong resolution

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Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515-0128

Opening Statement of Chairman Henry J. Hyde before Markup of H. Res. 277, Expressing Support for Freedom in Hong Kong June 17, 2003

Today's draft resolution on freedom in Hong Kong raises a sober question for us all to ponder: How does a state balance the need to protect itself from acts of sedition with the equally important need to protect the civil liberties of its citizens? This very same issue arose in the early days of our own Republic -- in the year 1798, to be exact. The Adams Administration and the Federalist-controlled Congress used the excuse of the extreme revolutionary fervor coming across the Atlantic from France to pass a series of legislative measures known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts. These measures were seen as effectively nullifying the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Public uproar was such that Congress repealed one of the measures and allowed the rest to die a natural death through expiration.

The point here is that all governments, as we are acutely aware after the tragic events of September 11th, have the imperative to protect their institutions and citizens from sedition, treason and terrorism. The question raised is: does Article 23 of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, to be considered by Hong Kong's Legislative Council this coming July 9th, go beyond legitimate security needs? Does it, like the Alien and Sedition Acts, threaten the civil liberties of the body politic as a whole? There are disturbing indications that the answer to these questions must be given in the affirmative.

When Hong Kong ended colonial rule on July 1, 1997 and was returned to the sovereignty of the Chinese people, an important pledge was given. That pledge was that, for the next fifty years under a "one country, two systems" formula, Hong Kong would continue to independently exercise those economic and political freedoms which had evolved over time. Those who feared the worst on that July day, now almost six years ago -- the sound of boots in the streets of Hong Kong -- found their fears unfounded. There was no immediate descent of a Bamboo Curtain. Instead, however, like drops of water falling upon a rock, there has been a slow erosion of those qualities which made Hong Kong unique. American citizens of certain political or philosophical persuasions have been denied entry. An internationally respected Hong Kong newspaper, whose owners turned their eyes toward Beijing, has fired its most effective and outspoken journalists. An American citizen, released from a Chinese prison partly through the intervention of this Committee, found the attitude of the administration, at the Hong Kong university where he taught, so hostile that he relocated to the United States. Ever so slowly, the rock of freedom is being washed away by these slow but steady drops.

Article 23, in its present form, is a major step forward in that erosion. But why should the world, and particularly the United States Congress, care about Hong Kong, an island enclave half the world away? As the English poet, John Donne noted, however, "no man is an island, entire of itself.... Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." Hong Kong is also not just an island. It is not only a piece of the Asian continent, but now is a part of the mainland of China. What happens in Hong Kong has significance throughout greater China and beyond in the continent of Asia. The eyes of Taiwan are on the continuing implementation of "one country, two systems" and specifically on Article 23. The eyes of religious organizations are also on Hong Kong. These, notably, have included the Catholic Church and its very effective representative, Bishop Joseph Zen (ZEN), a prominent voice calling for the preservation of civil and religious liberties. The eyes of Falun Gong (FA-LOON GONG) practitioners have also turned with increasing disquietude toward the ongoing debate over Article 23 and its possible use in the future to suppress the expression of ideas opposed by the Beijing authorities.

John Donne's poem concludes with the concept that the death of liberty anywhere in the globe diminishes us all because we are involved in mankind. The bell for the slow death of civil liberties is now tolling in Hong Kong as July 9th approaches. And we here do not need to "send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee."
(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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