Senate Passes Bill to Support Hong Kong Protesters, Putting Pressure on Trump

Senate Passes Bill to Support Hong Kong Protesters, Putting Pressure on Trump

Asia Pacific|Senate Passes Bill to Support Hong Kong Protesters, Putting Pressure on Trump

The House and Senate both passed the bill with a veto-proof majority. It compels the U.S. to penalize Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for abuses.

Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Edward Wong

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday 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 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 favorable trade conditions between the United States 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.

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.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said in a statement that the bill sent a “clear message to Hong Kongers” that the United States would not “stand idly by.” 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, Republican of Kentucky, had been criticized by members of both parties for delaying a floor vote on the bill.

Joshua Wong, a pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong who helped lead the demonstrations in 2014 that came to be known as the Umbrella Movement, said that he hoped the bill would set an example. “We hope this law proves that Beijing actually needs to face pressure from the international community,” he said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry denounced the bill after the Senate vote, saying it “interferes in China’s internal affairs” and “violates the basic norms of international law and international relations.”

The Hong Kong government said the bill was “unnecessary and unwarranted” and would harm relations between the United States and Hong Kong.

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 episode of the nearly half-year of demonstrations, though almost all protesters at the university had fled or been arrested by the police by Tuesday.

Last week, the Hong Kong protests entered a more violent phase when activists began disrupting traffic across the city and the 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.

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, and Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, both flew to Hong Kong last month, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat from California, 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 of New York, the top Democrat in the Senate, said on Tuesday evening. “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.”

Elaine Yu contributed reporting from Hong Kong.