US House unanimously toughens sanctions over HK law

Hong Kong police arrested about 370 people – including 10 under the new law yesterday. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives agreed unanimously Wednesday to seek tough sanctions on Chinese officials and Hong Kong police after Beijing imposed a security law that clamps down on the city.

After a day in which Hong Kong authorities arrested hundreds of protesters, the House quickly passed the act that had already passed the Senate last week.

Due to technical changes, the Senate will need to vote again. Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat who co-sponsored the bipartisan bill, vowed that the chamber would vote Thursday.

“What’s so sad about it is that the Chinese regime just thinks that they can act with impunity and repressing the spirit of democracy,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before the House passage.

“If we refuse to speak out on human rights in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out for human rights any place in the world,” Washington’s top elected Democrat, long a vocal proponent of human rights in China, said in a rare appearance before a congressional hearing.

President Donald Trump has not said if he will sign the bill but one of his allies briefly held up the Senate version, seeking changes.

Trump publicly hesitated last year before signing another rights bill on Hong Kong which also lays out sanctions against Chinese officials for infringing on the city’s autonomy.

Unlike the previous act, the new legislation would make sanctions mandatory, limiting Trump’s ability to waive them. In a crucial pressure point, it would also slap sanctions on banks that conduct transactions with violators.

China on Tuesday imposed the long-threatened security law in Hong Kong that criminalises “subversion” and other acts of dissent in a city to which it had promised separate freedoms.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong police cracked down on protesters marking the anniversary of the city’s 1997 handover from Britain, arresting about 370 people – including 10 under the new law.