(Update: The House on Wednesday passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in a 417-1 vote, with Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie the sole dissenter. It also passed unanimously a second Senate bill, limiting the export of crowd-control munitions to the Hong Kong police. The bills now go to President Trump’s desk for signature.)
(CNSNews.com) – Amid the rancorous House impeachment inquiry, Senate Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday evening united behind legislation aimed at protecting the people of Hong Kong and passed it unanimously, prompting Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to hail what he called a “great bipartisan moment on the floor of the Senate for a very important issue.”
After passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, Beijing early Wednesday demanded that the United States “immediately stop interfering” in China’s domestic affairs.
“This act neglects facts and truth, applies double standards and blatantly interferes in Hong Kong affairs and China’s other internal affairs,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.
“It is in serious violation of international law and basic norms governing international relations. China condemns and firmly opposes it.”
Geng also insinuated, not for the first time, that the U.S. is pursuing a “ hidden political agenda” aimed at trying to “contain China by making a fuss out of the Hong Kong issue.”
If the U.S. does not stop its “interference,” he said, “the negative consequences will boomerang on itself.”
“China will have to take strong countermeasures to defend our national sovereignty, security and development interests if the U.S. insists on making the wrong decisions.”
Beijing’s communist authorities have increasingly been signaling that their patience with the months-long protests is running out.
“Should the situation in Hong Kong deteriorate further into unrest uncontrollable for the governments of the Hong Kong special administrative region, the central government would not sit on its hands and watch,” China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, said on Monday. “We have enough solutions and enough power, within the limits of the Basic Law, to quell any unrest swiftly.”
The Senate bill provides for sanctions against Hong Kong officials who commit rights abuses and denies them entry into the U.S. The secretary of state would be required to certify to Congress annually whether Hong Kong is “sufficiently autonomous” to merit special U.S. trading privileges.
(Under the 1992 Hong Kong Policy Act – legislation drawn up to govern how the U.S. would treat Hong Kong after the then-British colony returned to Chinese rule five years later – the president may suspend privileges enjoyed by the territory if it is determined that Hong Kong is not “sufficiently autonomous” from the mainland.)
The legislation, introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) with 49 co-sponsors from both parties, now goes to the House, which passed its own version by voice vote last month.
Immediately after Rubio’s bill was passed the Senate approved a second measure, also unanimously, to prohibit the export of certain munitions to the Hong Kong police force. Items covered by the ban are “teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, foam rounds, bean bag rounds, pepper balls, water cannons, handcuffs, shackles, stun guns, and tasers.”
The protests were sparked last June by a proposal by the territory’s Beijing-backed government to allow criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland for trial, stoking concerns that the measure could be used to target Beijing’s critics, including political dissidents or people facing religious persecution.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam later suspended the proposal and then withdrew it altogether, but the protests did not stop.
“The protests have continued, because the people of Hong Kong see what’s coming,” Rubio said on the Senate floor. “They see the steady effort to erode their autonomy and their freedoms. And the response by the Hong Kong authorities, under tremendous pressure from Beijing, is violence and repression.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) accused China’s Communist Party of “waging a brutal campaign to absorb Hong Kong into its dystopian, hi-tech dictatorship.”
“They look at and covet Hong Kong’s wealth, and they fear and loath its freedom, which stands in shining contrast to the Orwellian oppression on the mainland. In fact, they fear that mainland Chinese might look across the bay and start to get ideas.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the “police brutality” witnessed against protestors and “the Communist Party’s larger assault on the people on Hong Kong has been shameful.”
“We must send a clear and uncompromising statement that America stands with the people of Hong Kong in their quest to maintain their self-governance and autonomy,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Let us work to hold China accountable for the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong.”
“After two decades of broken commitments, it is past time that we hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho). “What it is doing in Hong Kong is just wrong.”