Sat, 07 Dec 2019

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday which requires an annual review of Hong Kong's human rights situation and sanctions against officials linked to rights abuses in the city, setting the stage for possible signature by President Donald Trump.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which passed in an expedited process unanimously by the Senate Tuesday, cleared the House 417-1 on Wednesday.

"The Congress is sending an unmistakable message to the world that the United States stands in solidarity with freedom-loving people of Hong Kong and that we fully support their fight for freedom," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday.

"After the Senate unanimously passed our Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, I applaud Speaker Pelosi for taking swift action to send this bill directly to President Trump's desk for signature," Senator Marco Rubio, a an original sponsor of the Senate legislation, said in a statement.

"I urge the president to sign this critical bill into law as soon as possible."

The House also passed the Protect Hong Kong Act, which would prohibit U.S. companies from exporting non-lethal crowd control and defense items to the former British colony.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a bill introduced in June by Rubio and Chris Smith, co-chairmen of Congressional Executive Commission on China, would revise current U.S. policy since Britain handed the city to China in 1997.

U.S. policy treats Hong Kong separately from the rest of China in trade, investment, commerce, and immigration-based on Beijing's pledge to give the territory a high degree of autonomy under the "one country, two systems" model.

The new act would require the U.S. State Department to report annually to Congress whether Hong Kong is "sufficiently autonomous from China" to justify keeping the city's distinct trading status, and whether China has "eroded Hong Kong's civil liberties and rule of law," as protected by the city's Basic Law.

The bill, if enacted, will also enable the U.S. to freeze the assets of, and refuse visas to, officials deemed responsible for human rights violations in the city.

In Beijing on Tuesday, officials slammed the Senate's passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act as interference in China's internal affairs.

"The bill disregards the facts, confuses right and wrong, violates the truth, plays with double standards, openly intervenes in Hong Kong affairs, interferes in China's internal affairs, and seriously violates the norms of international law and international relations," the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website. "China strongly condemns and resolutely opposes it."

"This bad behavior of the United States doesn't only harm China's interests, but also undermines key interests of the United States in Hong Kong," the statement said.

Rights groups have warned that Hong Kong is now in a state of humanitarian crisis after police fired more than 10,000 rounds of tear gas in recent months, with around 20 percent of those fired into the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) campus during a single day last week.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam formally withdrew a planned amendment to the city's extradition laws last month, fulfilling the first of the protest movement's five demands.

But protesters say they will continue until there has also been an amnesty for thousands of people arrested, the withdrawal of the official term 'rioting' to describe the movement, an independent inquiry into police violence against protesters, and fully democratic elections to the Legislative Council and for the post of chief executive.

Government officials have repeatedly ruled out these measures, while calling at the same time for "dialogue" with protesters.

Copyright © 1998-2018, RFA. Published with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

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