Twenty one senators — 10 Republicans and 11 Democrats — called on President Barack Obama on Thursday to vocally support student protests aimed at increasing political freedom in Hong Kong.
Thousands of students and others have staged protests in Hong Kong since the summer in a push for democratic reforms. In late September, police used pepper spray against the students, forcing students to use their umbrellas to shield themselves.
A protester holds an umbrella during a performance on a main road in the occupied areas outside government headquarters in Hong Kong's Admiralty in Hong Kong. Several senators are asking Obama to speak up in support of the protestors. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
While many have rallied to the cause of the so-called Umbrella Movement, the Obama administration has so far offered a perfunctory response. Earlier this week, for example, a State Department spokeswoman said the focus of the U.S. has been on "encouraging the differences between Hong Kong authorities and protestors to be addressed peacefully."
The Senate letter said the U.S. needs to show much more enthusiasm than that.
"The people of Hong Kong should be applauded and supported for their remarkable courage and determination despite extraordinarily challenging circumstances in recent days," they wrote. "The 'Umbrella Movement' has shown the world the inspirational power of free expression in defense of the basic right to choose one's leaders freely."
"In the wake of the Chinese Communist Party's public threats and the recent physical attacks against peaceful demonstrators, we encourage you to speak out personally in support of the Hong Kong people's democratic aspirations," they added.
The letter noted that China agreed that Hong Kong would be governed by "one country, two systems" until 2047, but said China is "backsliding" on that commitment.
"Over the past week, the people of Hong Kong have reminded the world what is at stake," they wrote. "We urge you and your administration to take demonstrable, meaningful steps to help ensure that Beijing maintains its commitments to the people of Hong Kong."
The letter was led by Sens. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).