Senate passes bill supporting Hong Kong protesters, backing Trump into corner with China

The Independent Politics 3 weeks ago

The Senate has passed a bill that compels the government to support Hong Kong pro-democracy activists by requiring it to impose sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses in the territory.

The bill, if enacted into law by president Donald Trump, would also require the State Department to annually review the special autonomous status it grants Hong Kong in trade considerations.

That status is separate from the relationship with mainland China, and a revocation of the status would mean less favourable trade conditions between the US and Hong Kong.

The Senate passed the bill, called the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, by unanimous consent, as did the House last month with its version.

Because the bill, in theory, has the support of a veto-proof majority in Congress, it could be enacted into law even if Mr Trump vetoed it. The chambers are expected to come up with a unified bill to send the president.

A protester throws a stone into a building at Hong Kong Polytechnic University on 11 November
Police patrol the streets of Hong Kong the day after an officer shot a protester during a protest on 11 November
Riot police stand guard during a protest against police brutality in Hong Kong on 27 October
Protesters carry traffic cones to build a barricade during anti-government protests in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong on 11 November
Protesters use obstacles and bricks to block a road in Hong Kong on 11 November
Graffiti on a window smashed by student protesters in Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Protesters carry US and British flags during a demonstration in Hong Kong on 11 November
A protester throws a bottle of water as he is shrouded in tear gas during a demonstration in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Hong Kong on 27 October
Journalists take pictures of police officers as they move to disperse protesters in Hong Kong on 27 October
An man lies injured after being attacked by protesters who suspected him of being an undercover police officer on 27 October
A man runs among tear gas during a protest in Hong Kong on 27 October
Protesters gather on a field in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Hong Kong on 27 October
Pro-democracy protesters turn away from a fire lit outside the Causeway Bay Mass Rapid Transit (MTR) station in Hong Kong on 4 October
People rest near rows of riot police officers during a protest in Mong Kok, Hong Kong on 27 October
Pro-democracy protesters hold umbrellas as police fire tear gas at them ouside Tai Koo MTR station in Hong Kong on 3 October
Hong Kong police fire a water cannon from the central government office at protesters during a mass rally on the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China on October 1
Protesters burn a Chinese national flag during a mass rally on the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China on 1 October
Protesters remove signs celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China during a mass rally in Hong Kong on 1 October
Cardboard boxes set alight by protesters burn in the streets of Hong Kong during a mass rally on the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China on 1 October
An anti-China banner has been placed in a barricade during a mass rally on the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China on 1 October
A pro-democracy protester runs away after police fire a tear gas canister in Hong Kong's Wong Tai Sin district on October 4
Protesters run after police fire tear gas during a mass rally on the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China on 4 October
Pro-democracy protester take cover after police fire a tear gas canister in Hong Kong's Wong Tai Sin district on 4 October
The rally comes after months of protests on the streets of Hong Kong which began in oppposition to a proposed extradition bill
The extradition bill would have allowed the government to extradite people to China if they were facing certain criminal charges
Opposition to the bill stems from the fear that the Chinese government would abuse this power for political or commercial reasons
Protesters soon came to demand greater freedom and universal suffrage under the One Country, Two Systems principle
Protesters are wearing black to symbolise opposition to China as they take to the streets in a "day of grief" while the Chinese state celebrates the 70th anniversary of its communist founding
A protester charges forward holding umbrellas as a mass rally breaks out in violence in Hong Kong on 1 October
A protester pours water on a tear gas canister fired by police during a mass rally on the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China on 1 October
A protester carries a vandalised Chinese flag through Hong Kong during a mass rally on the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China on 1 October
Protesters carry a banner that denounces the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China on 1 October

Mr Trump, who rarely talks about human rights, has not spoken about the bill, nor has he made consistently strong statements in support of the Hong Kong activists.

Many of those protesters have urged American politicians to pass the bill, saying the law would give them leverage over officials in Hong Kong and China.

For nearly six months, demonstrations have convulsed Hong Kong as activists have struggled to preserve the territory’s semi-autonomy from the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. Before Britain handed over the territory to China in 1997, the countries agreed to guarantee that semi-autonomy for 50 years.

Republican senator Marco Rubio said in a statement that the bill sent a “clear message to Hong Kongers” that the US would not “stand idly by”.

Protests grow in Hong Kong at Polytechnic campus

He added: “The passage of this bill is an important step in holding accountable those Chinese and Hong Kong government officials responsible for Hong Kong’s eroding autonomy and human rights violations.”

Mr Rubio led the effort to pass the bill. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, had been criticised by members of both parties for delaying a floor vote on the bill.

Republican and Democratic senators decided to try to quickly pass the bill after hundreds of young protesters fought off a police siege on the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The confrontation, which began Saturday night, was the most violent of the demonstrations, though almost all protesters at the university had fled or been arrested by police by Tuesday.

In recent weeks, the Hong Kong protests entered a more violent phase when activists began disrupting traffic across the city and police tried breaching campuses, considered a last refuge of the demonstrators.

The bill is the latest sign of a strong bipartisan push in Washington to confront China and its authoritarian leader, President Xi Jinping, on a wide range of issues, including commercial practices, global infrastructure building and the detention of at least a million Muslim ethnic minority members in camps in northwest China. Because of the pro-democracy protests, Hong Kong has become a central rallying point.

Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley both flew to Hong Kong last month, while House speaker Nancy Pelosi met recently with activists in Washington.

“We have sent a message to President Xi: Your suppression of freedom, whether in Hong Kong, in northwest China or anywhere else, will not stand,” senator Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, said. “You cannot be a great leader and you cannot be a great country when you oppose freedom, when you are so brutal to the people of Hong Kong, young and old, who are protesting.”

The New York Times


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