Hong Kong Protesters Descend on U.S. Consulate, Seeking Support

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HONG KONG — Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong demonstrated near the United States Consulate on Sunday in an effort to raise the pressure on the city’s leaders by appealing directly to Congress and the White House for support.

The rally by tens of thousands of de began in a downtown park near the consulate. Some sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” waved American flags and held a large blue-and-white banner that read: “President Trump, please liberate Hong Kong.”

“Resist Beijing!” the crowd chanted in English. “Liberate Hong Kong!”

Some organizers called on protesters to eschew their usual black T-shirts, the unofficial uniform of the demonstrations, and to dress instead in an outfit they described as “smart casual + black mask.”

Sunday’s march comes on the heels of two days of clashes that marked the first notable displays of unrest since Carrie Lam, the city’s leader, announced on Wednesday that she would formally withdraw the contentious extradition bill that sparked the protests in June.

The march to the consulate was intended to seek support for an American bill, which is moving through Congress. The legislation would penalize officials in China or Hong Kong who suppress freedoms in the semiautonomous Chinese territory and require an annual justification for why the United States should offer Hong Kong special trade and business privileges.

Darius Wu, an electrical engineer, waved an American flag and said he hoped the bill, if passed, would affect Hong Kong and Beijing officials “at the personal level.”

“Because Hong Kong people are running out of measures to safeguard our city, we need America’s help,” Mr. Wu, 27, added.

The Chinese government has blamed the United States and other western countries for sewing the seeds of discontent and attempting to foment a “revolution” in the semiautonomous Chinese city. Though mainland authorities have provided no credible evidence to support their claim, officials are wary of foreign influence and interference.

For the protesters, publicly appealing to the United States for support carries risks. One is that it could play into a campaign by Beijing to portray the protests as a campaign orchestrated by Washington, not a reflection of genuine local grievances. Another is that the bill could further hurt Hong Kong’s already sputtering economy, alienating the general public whose support they have been courting.

Ahead of Sunday’s march, the consulate issued a “demonstration alert” on its website saying that the march and other events over the weekend might disrupt transportation around the city. A spokesman at the consulate declined to comment on demonstrations.

The bill, The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, was introduced in June by Rep. Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey. Similar legislation has been floating around Washington for years, and the latest version has wide bipartisan support in Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated her support for the bill in a statement on Wednesday, saying that it would “reaffirm the U.S. commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the face of Beijing’s crackdown.”

President Trump, by contrast, has sent mixed signals on the Hong Kong protests. He suggested last month that China should settle the problem “humanely” before reaching a trade deal with the United States, for example. But he has also called the protests “riots,” echoing the language of the Chinese government.

This summer’s protests have prompted the city’s worst political crisis since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The movement’s demands have gradually expanded since June to include broad calls for political reform and police accountability.

But aside from promising on Wednesday to withdraw the bill, Mrs. Lam has so far declined to engage on the other demands, including universal suffrage.

Months of protests have taken a toll on the economy of Hong Kong, a major international banking hub, and some residents fear that the American bill would further damage the city’s financial well-being.

Brian Chan, 23, an engineer who joined the march said he was not worried about the impact the legislation might have on the Hong Kong economy.

“Freedom and democracy is more important than economics,” Mr. Chan said.“Hong Kong people who love this place from their hearts want freedom,” he added. “The economy of Hong Kong is good, but most people don’t benefit.”

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