It is tempting to dismiss as a farce the spectacle of Joshua Wong and two other activists urging the United States Congress last week to punish Hong Kong for stifling freedom and democracy – but that would be missing the point. No doubt their testimony before a Congressional panel was pure political theatre, but that does not mean one should not reflect on what the episode was really about, and what it portends for China and Hong Kong . Ostensibly, the hearing was called to deliberate on the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act , which enables the US Congress to assess the city’s status under American law annually, and sanction leaders there who undermine democracy. The penalty for that is removal of certain tariff privileges which the United States grants Hong Kong as a separate customs territory, and therefore distinct from China. Only those who refuse to see will fail to discern that the real target is China . This exercise is not about Hong Kong and it would be naive to think that Congress cares about the city, which it regards as just the battering ram. If the concern is genuinely about human rights and freedom, then Hong Kong should await its turn in a long list of abusers, starting with Saudi Arabia . No? Well, here was what Congressman Jim McGovern, a Democrat representing Massachusetts, said in his opening remarks at the hearing: “It is time we put the Chinese government on an annual notice that further erosion of autonomy or a crackdown on Hong Kong will cause the city and, by extension, mainland China, to lose its special trade arrangement with the US.” So, let’s get real, Hong Kong is just collateral damage. But what constitutes a crackdown? Forceful action by Hong Kong police against vicious black-clad and masked rioters who throw petrol bombs and destroy public property? Erosion of autonomy? Who decides? UK calls on China to respect Hong Kong obligations under handover pact Answer: the US Congress, of course. And therein lies another takeaway from the hearing – the arrogance of an America that arrogates to itself the right to sit in judgment of another country’s governance. Now, imagine what McGovern and his colleagues would say if Beijing were to announce that it would buy American pork and soybeans – only if it was satisfied that asylum seekers languishing in detention along the Mexican border were treated humanely according to Chinese criteria! That America’s political establishment will reach out for anything with which to bash China is hardly surprising, given the bipartisan consensus that the country poses the greatest challenge to US supremacy. What is noteworthy about this latest Congressional action is the readiness to drop all pretence that the US has not been interfering in and fanning the turmoil that has ripped Hong Kong apart. Nor was there any effort to give the proceedings some semblance of objectivity. No informed, non-partisan witnesses were called, presumably because they might come forth with inconvenient truths that would contradict the desired narrative. And so the panel heard from the 22-year-old Joshua Wong and two others, Denise Ho , a failed Canto-pop singer who holds a Canadian passport but presumes to speak for Hong Kong, and Sunny Cheung, a spokesman for a little-known group called the Hong Kong Higher Education International Affairs Delegation. How credible are they? South China Morning Post columnist Alex Lo said the Americans scraped the bottom of the barrel when they brought the trio on as talking heads for their show. Some might find this remark unkind, but it does beg the question why far more articulate campaigners for democracy in Hong Kong like Martin Lee or Anson Chan were not at the hearing. Was Lo right? Well, here is just one of many statements made by Cheung: “During detention, one of our student members was told by the police that it was reasonable to rape some female protesters when they frequently have to work overtime.” Rape? Seriously? Trump’s biggest mistake in trade war: not realising the Chinese will never genuflect again Anyway, what the trio said at the hearing does not matter, as the Americans had made up their minds way before that. Within a week, the foreign affairs committees of both the House of Representatives and Senate cleared the path for the proposed legislation to go to a floor vote in October. Once approved, US President Donald Trump will sign it into law, unless he vetoes it, which is unlikely. In the final analysis, it is of course the US’ prerogative to decide which country it wants to extend tariff privileges to. That is usually an economic decision taken in accordance with established international rules on trade between nations, but in this instance, it is being turned into a political tool. The Act will hit Hong Kong if and when it is used, arbitrarily, as leverage against China. How badly has yet to be computed. And Hong Kong cannot stop the Americans. Neither can Beijing, which has protested loudly, but likely to no avail. If push comes to shove, it might well, in retaliation, ask the US to cut its consular staff in Hong Kong to a skeletal one. But what can the people in Hong Kong do? Frankly, not much, but at the very least, they should speak up lest their silence is construed as tacit acceptance of US interference in their domestic affairs as well as the allegations of police brutality and erosion of freedoms. Worse, given that the US is sure to scratch around for yet more pressure points against China, silence may encourage it to continue using Hong Kong as the excuse. Further, instead of just laughing off the antics of Joshua Wong et al, they should also voice their disapproval even more forcefully against the activists and opposition figures who abet foreign meddling, or even invite it, either out of misplaced convictions that this will work out to the long-term good of Hong Kong, or for more nefarious reasons. Whatever the justification, these activists are hurting Hong Kong. Martin Lee, Cardinal Joseph Zen say Beijing kept tabs on meeting in Portugal Not wanting to get involved – for fear that the black mob will rain terror on them – is no longer an option as Hong Kong teeters on the edge of an abyss, and the halcyon days of keeping one’s head down and just living an ordinary life are going, going … if not gone altogether. The thugs and the radical protesters will not fade quietly into the night if the tide of public opinion does not turn decisively against them. Now is the time to cut the mat, to use the Cantonese phrase for dissociating oneself from bad company.