WASHINGTON: Republican and Democratic lawmakers joined forces Thursday to reaffirm US commitment to democracy and human rights in Hong Kong and send a stern warning about what they termed China’s increased interference in the territory.
Lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives introduced the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a measure that would also threaten to remove Hong Kong’s status as a US special trading partner.
The bill appears designed to put pressure on Hong Kong – and its pro-Beijing leader – to vote against a controversial proposed extradition law that critics say would be abused by an increasingly assertive Beijing to pursue its political enemies.
The 10 co-sponsors of the US bill – eight senators and two congressmen – said in a statement that it would “reaffirm US commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law at a time when Hong Kong’s autonomy is under assault by interference from the Chinese government and Communist Party.”
No date has been set for votes on the US measure.
The former British colony on Sunday endured its largest protests since the handover to Chinese rule in 1997. Violent clashes rocked the city Wednesday, and police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters.
“The US must send a strong message that we stand with those peacefully advocating for freedom and the rule of law and against Beijing’s growing interference in Hong Kong affairs,” said Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican who has maintained a hawkish approach to China.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch said he will continue to urge that the proposed extradition law be withdrawn and noted the potentially severe trade implications should Hong Kong adopt it.
“Passage will compel the US Senate to re-evaluate aspects of the US-Hong Kong relationship,” Risch said.
The US legislation would require the secretary of state to annually certify Hong Kong’s autonomy to justify special treatment afforded to the island by the 1992 US Hong Kong Policy Act, which separates the island from mainland China on several economic issues.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned earlier this week that should the extradition proposal become law in Hong Kong, the US Congress would have “no choice but to reassess whether Hong Kong is ‘sufficiently autonomous'” to justify the special trade arrangement.
On Thursday, she praised the latest US legislation, and expressed hope that President Donald Trump “will speak about human rights in China and freedoms in China when he talks about trade with the Chinese.”
Trump is set to meet his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in late June at the G20 summit in Japan to discuss trade tensions between Washington and Beijing.