The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a series of bills in support of Hong Kong protesters. The bills require Washington to determine whether political developments in Hong Kong would justify its treatment of the city as a separate trading entity from mainland China and opens doors to sanctions for those who violate internationally recognized human rights, among other actions supporting protesters.
Known as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, it is expected to pass the Senate, where it currently rests on a bipartisan co-sponsorship of 25 senators.
“Democrats and Republicans in the House and in the Senate stand united with the people of Hong Kong,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Tuesday, according to CNN. “If America does not speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interest, then we lose all moral authority to speak out for human rights anyplace in the world.”
Introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, the bills mandate an annual review that would assess whether Hong Kong’s autonomy remains sufficient to justify the special treatment it receives as a financial center under U.S. law. Its Senate version, however, slightly differs, which means the House may have to vote on it again following the Senate decision.
The legislation also paves the way for sanctions and travel restrictions against individuals responsible for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy, including acts of carrying out arbitrary detention, torture and forced confession. Unsurprisingly, it was criticized by pro-Beijing officials, who recognized it as a “political plot” to prevent China’s development.
“This kind of behavior has grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs and is openly adding support to the opposition forces and radical forces in Hong Kong,” said Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, according to the South China Morning Post. “It has exposed the political plot of the U.S. House of Representatives and some politicians to use Hong Kong to contain China’s development.”
Stressing its adherence to the “one country, two systems” framework, the Hong Kong government officially “expressed regret” over the passage of the bill in a statement on Wednesday.
“Safeguarding human rights and freedoms is a constitutional duty of the [Hong Kong] government,” the statement said, adding that police have acted with restraint and “in strict accordance with the law,” according to the Washington Post.
The House also approved the PROTECT Hong Kong Act, which halts the export of non-lethal crowd control equipment to the city’s authorities, such as rubber bullets and tear gas.
Additionally, the House approved a resolution that recognizes Hong Kong’s bilateral relationship with the U.S. and condemns “the interference of the People’s Republic of China in Hong Kong’s affairs.”
On Wednesday, China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) — its top legislature — and foreign ministry also issued separate statements condemning the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.
“We strongly urge the US Congress and some American politicians to immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs … halt further deliberation of the bill, and do more to benefit the long-term development and fundamental interests of China and the US,” the NPC Foreign Affairs Committee said, according to SCMP.
Meanwhile, Chinese foreign minister Geng Shuang warned, “With regards to the incorrect decision by the US, China must take strong countermeasures to firmly safeguard its sovereignty, security and developmental interests.
“If the relevant bill is ultimately passed into law, not only will it harm Chinese interests but it will damage China-US relations and seriously damage the US’ own interests.”
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