Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has urged President Donald Trump to publicly speak out in support of protesters in Hong Kong as violence in the region intensified over the weekend at a Hong Kong campus.
“I would encourage this president, who has seen Chinese behavior for what it is with a clarity that others have lacked, not to shy away from speaking out on Hong Kong himself,” McConnell told the Senate floor on Nov. 18, The Hill reported.
“The world should hear from him directly that the United States stands with these brave men and women.”
The Republican leader urged Trump to make Hong Kong’s autonomy a focus for the administration’s bilateral diplomacy with China, not just securing a trade deal, and said he hopes “individuals responsible for egregious human rights abuses” can be penalized financially by using an on-the-book sanctions law.
McConnell said on Monday he also hoped a way could be found to pass a bill that would place Hong Kong’s privileged status in U.S. law under tighter scrutiny.
He added that while he was working to bring the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act to a floor vote, the Trump administration does not “need to wait for new laws to act further.”
“There are already significant tools at the administration’s disposal, and I strongly encourage them to use them,” McConnell said.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act will require the U.S. administration to conduct annual reviews to ensure the city is sufficiently autonomous from mainland China to justify special trade privileges afforded to it by the United States. It passed the House by unanimous consent.
The United States currently treats Hong Kong as a separate entity from the mainland in economic and trade matters, even after the former British colony was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997, after the signing of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
The proposal would also impose sanctions on any officials accountable for human rights violations in the city. A companion version of the bill in the House passed unanimously in October.
McConnell’s comments came as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the Hong Kong government to “take clear steps” to address public concerns, and called on Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to allow the protests to be independently probed amid rising violence in the city.
“Unrest and violence cannot be resolved by law enforcement efforts alone,” he said at a press conference. He said the Chinese regime must honor its promises to the people of Hong Kong, “who only want the freedoms and liberties they have been promised.”
Violence Intensifies at Hong Kong Campus
Hong Kong police ramped up their tactics by deploying rifles and other more harmful weapons for the first time against protesters during a standoff at the Polytechnic University (PolyU) campus, which has been ongoing since Saturday, Nov. 16.
Police fired tear gas and projectiles and deployed water cannons and new weapons such as rifles, a sonic device, and what appeared to be stun guns, during the violent weekend confrontations.
The protesters had blocked one of Hong Kong’s major highways, the Cross Harbor Tunnel linking Hong Kong island to the Kowloon peninsula, for much of last week, in an attempt to pressure the government into answering their demands.
On Sunday evening, police issued an ultimatum for protesters to leave the campus. Having sealed off roads in the area, police essentially trapped hundreds inside.
Derek Liu Kin-kwan, president of the PolyU student union, estimated that about 500 to 600 people were still trapped inside the campus as of Monday evening.
Eva Fu contributed to this report.