The Hong Kong government spent at least HK$84 million (US$10.8 million) hiring U.S. firms to lobby against the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.
The fees were spent between 2014 and 2020 by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, without counting expenses and incidental costs, according to a Hong Kong Free Press report. The bill, which imposes punitive measures on officials harming Hong Kong’s freedoms, was passed by the U.S. in November 2019.
A Commerce and Economic Development Bureau spokesperson told Apple Daily that its representatives in Washington “proactively explained the situation in Hong Kong to our interlocutors and our contacts” and raised “strong objection to the Hong Kong Act.”
The Hong Kong office in Washington had opposed recent negative U.S. policies against Hong Kong, and stressed that the U.S. should not harm its trade relations and mutual interests with Hong Kong, the spokesperson added.
Under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, the HKTDC and lobbying firms it hired were required to register as “foreign agents” and reveal their activities and relevant costs.
Lobbyists, including some former U.S. lawmakers, said they engaged in “political activities” on behalf of the HKTDC, according to disclosure filings.
The lobbyists arranged at least six face-to-face meetings with U.S. politicians in Washington between late 2014 and early 2015 and again in September 2019 to discuss the act on behalf of the Hong Kong government.
Although the engagement contracts were signed by the HKTDC, the lobbyists received instructions from the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Washington, the city’s official representative in the U.S. capital.
HKETO head Eddie Mak met with California Democratic Party representative Alan Lowenthal on Sept. 12, 2019, to discuss the bill, according to the disclosure filings. The meeting was just a few days before Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, including Joshua Wong and Denise Ho, testified before Congress about the Hong Kong protests at the time.
Bart Stupak, a congressman-turned-lobbyist from the firm Venable LLP, arranged another meeting with the then chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Eliot Engel, on Sept. 26 that year, shortly after the congressional foreign relations committees voted on the draft bill.
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