Hong Kong activist Nathan Law Kwun-chung will attend US President Donald Trump's annual State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday, the guest of Republican senator Rick Scott of Florida.
Scott views the invitation as a way to keep Hong Kong’s continuing protest movement and its struggle for democracy front and centre as a foreign policy issue for the US.
“I am honoured to have Nathan as my guest,” Scott said. “Nathan is an inspiration in the fight for freedom and democracy, and he has sent a powerful message to Communist China that the people of Hong Kong will not back down or be silenced.”
Later on Monday, in another move likely to displease Beijing, fellow Florida Republican Senator Mark Rubio said he would host Uygur human rights activist Rushan Abbas at the president's speech.
"As the founder and executive director of Campaign for Uygurs, Rushan has tirelessly raised awareness of the atrocities taking place in Xinjiang at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party." Rubio said.
Law, the founding chairman of youth activist group Demosistō, was unseated as a Hong Kong legislator in 2017 and is now a graduate student in East Asian Studies at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. He confirmed in a tweet that he plans to attend.
“The United States will always stand with fighters like Nathan to rise up against injustice and fight for freedom,” Scott said in a statement. “The world must stand together to present a unified front against Communist China’s aggression.”
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Scott was one of several sponsors of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which passed by nearly unanimous vote and became law in November.
Analysts said that given the law’s passage, the focus this year will be more on assuring its implementation than on new Hong Kong-related legislation.
The human rights bill, passed over Beijing’s strong opposition and signed into law by Trump, apparently under political pressure from Republicans, requires that the administration issue a report annually on whether Hong Kong remains suitably autonomous from Beijing. It also outlines possible sanctions for individuals deemed to be violating the human rights of Hong Kong residents or undermining the territory’s autonomy.