The U.S. Congress has demonstratively thrown its weight behind the democracy movement in Hong Kong. The House of Representatives almost unanimously approved two bills to support democratic forces in the Chinese special administrative region.
The Senate had already passed the drafts the previous day. U.S. President Donald Trump is now eagerly awaited to sign the executive orders so they can go into effect. China has threatened "countermeasures" in the event.
After the riots earlier in the week, the situation in Hong Kong was calm on Thursday. However, dozens of young protesters were still holding out at the Polytechnic University compound, which was cordoned off by security forces. The police had asked the activists to leave the campus. But they fear their arrest as "seditionists". Around 1000 demonstrators have left the site. Several hundred were detained. Minors had to hand over their personal details, but were allowed to go home.
Protests in Hong Kong have been going on for five months now. They are directed against the government, the police crackdown, which is perceived as brutal, and the growing influence of Beijing’s communist leadership. Hong Kong has been governed autonomously under China’s sovereignty under the principle of "one country, two systems" since it was returned to China in 1997. Unlike the people in the communist People’s Republic, the seven million Hong Kongers enjoy extensive rights such as freedom of assembly and expression. But now they fear their freedoms will be increasingly restricted.
Despite fierce protests and threats from Beijing, the U.S. Congress adopted the "Human Rights and Democracy Ordinance" on Hong Kong on Wednesday evening local time in Washington. The U.S. president has not yet commented on whether he will sign or veto the bills. However, it could be overruled with a two-thirds majority in both chambers. So far, Trump had held back on criticizing China’s actions in Hong Kong. He is also currently seeking an agreement with Beijing in the U.S. trade war with China, which has been going on for a year now.
In protest of the Senate’s passage, the Chinese government summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires in Beijing on Wednesday. Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu said Hong Kong was an "internal affair" in which no one should interfere. Ma Zhaoxu called on the U.S. government to take "effective measures" to prevent the approved drafts from being turned into laws. Otherwise China would take "countermeasures". The U.S. would have to bear the "consequences".
Another bill banning the export of tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and handcuffs, among other items, to Hong Kong’s police also passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate. The "Human Rights and Democracy Ordinance" was passed unanimously in the Senate and with only one dissenting vote in the House of Representatives.
The bill threatens, among other things, economic sanctions by depriving Hong Kong of the preferential treatment it has received so far in the economic and trade policy of the USA towards China. Annual reports from the State Department to Congress on whether Hong Kong is still sufficiently autonomous from China to continue to justify preferential treatment are foreseen for this purpose. Civil rights to be given special consideration.
The bill also calls for the president to impose sanctions on individuals found responsible for serious human rights abuses in Hong Kong.