Trump said late Wednesday that he signed the two bills out of respect for the Chinese leader Xi Jinping and the people of Hong Kong.
“They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all,” he said in a White House statement.
Since June, Hongkongers have taken to the streets to protest the Chinese communist regime’s perceived encroachment on the city’s freedom. The mass protests have rocked the small city but a lack of meaningful dialogue with the local Hong Kong government brought growing fears of a ruthless crackdown from Beijing. Police have arrested around 5,000 protesters and fired more than 10,000 rounds of tear gas across Hong Kong since the protests began.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act (S.1838) would require the United States to review annually Hong Kong’s special trading privileges and pave the way for sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights violations in the city. The Senate unanimously passed the bill on Nov. 19 and the House followed on Nov. 20 with a vote of 417 to 1.
Congress also passed S.2710, a bill that would prohibit the export of control equipment to Hong Kong police, who have been accused of using excessively violent and heavy-handed tactics to quell the demonstrations.
Many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and Hongkongers applauded the president’s decision to sign the bills.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a co-author of the Senate bill, congratulated the president, saying that the United States now has “new and meaningful tools to deter further influence and interference from Beijing into Hong Kong’s internal affairs.”
“Following last weekend’s historic elections in Hong Kong that included record turnout, this new law could not be more timely in showing strong U.S. support for Hongkongers’ long-cherished freedoms. I look forward to continuing to work with the administration to implement this law,” Rubio said.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), another co-author of the Senate bill, said the message the bill sends to the protesters, Hong Kong government, and CCP is that “the United States is not only watching, but stands with demonstrators as they march for their autonomy, for their democracy, and for their human rights.”
“We now have stronger legislative tools to back up our a moral obligation to support Hong Kong’s autonomy and hold China accountable for violations of human rights,” he said.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a co-sponsors of the Senate bills, released a video after the bill was signed, to highlight police violence in Hong Kong.
“The United States strongly supports the Hong Kong freedom fighters as they resist Communist China,” she said in her Twitter post.
BREAKING: The #HKHumanRightsandDemocracyAct and my PROTECT Act were just signed into law!
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) November 27, 2019
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), lead sponsor for the House bill, also issued a statement saying that “the enactment of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act—which was expected and greatly welcomed—makes it abundantly clear that the Trump Administration, the United States Congress, and the American people stand in solidarity with the people of Hong Kong.”
“Xi Jin[p]ing should understand that the US is not kidding about human rights. Beating, torturing and jailing of democracy activists is wrong and this historic legislation lets China know that respecting fundamental human rights is paramount.
“Tragically, under President Xi Jinping, human rights abuse throughout China has significantly worsened including the pervasive use of torture, religious persecution, human trafficking and genocide against Muslim Uighurs. We have always believed that every person in China deserves better than the brutality so many endure and the systematic violations of their universally recognized human rights,” he added.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also issued a statement saying that Congress has sent an unmistakable message “that the United States stands in solidarity with the people of Hong Kong, and that we fully support their fight for their freedoms.”
“Democrats and Republicans have long stood united in the fight for freedoms in China, whether for the Tibetan community, the Uyghur community, the people of Hong Kong or the many brave journalists, human rights lawyers, Christians and democracy activists on the mainland. If America does not speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out elsewhere,” Pelosi said.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was pleased to see the president sign the bill into law, adding that the law makes it abundantly clear to Hongkongers, the international community, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that the American people support the people of Hong Kong.
“The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is an important step forward in holding the Chinese Communist Party accountable for its erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and its repression of fundamental human rights,” Risch said. “This law is the product of a true bipartisan, bicameral effort, and I am gratified that we came together with one voice to tell the people of Hong Kong that the United States stands with them.”
The committee’s ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) also shared similar sentiments, saying that the signing of the bills sends a clear and unequivocal message to the people of Hong Kong that “We are with you.”
“With the world standing witness to history as the people of Hong Kong risk it all in pursuit of their legitimate aspirations for autonomy and against the erosion of democracy, I am incredibly proud to be able to grant them a powerful new tool with this important law,” Menendez said. “The vibrancy of the people of Hong Kong, especially the young people and the rising generation of leaders, is incredibly inspirational. I look forward to seeing the impact this law will have in boosting Hongkongers yearning for democracy and self-governance.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he was grateful to the president for signing the bipartisan bills that “stand up for the brave people of Hong Kong and hold Beijing accountable.”
Grateful to @POTUS for signing our bipartisan legislation to stand up for the brave people of Hong Kong and hold Beijing accountable. The United States of America stands with Hong Kong.
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) November 28, 2019
Similarly, Rep. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said it was excellent to see Trump sign the bill. He said, “I was proud to fight for this important bill & will continue to stand with dissidents struggling for freedom in #HongKong.”
Excellent to see @realDonaldTrump #StandWithHongKong & sign the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which includes my bill calling for reevaluating privileges for #HongKong in light of encroachments on HK’s autonomy by the Chinese Communist Party.pic.twitter.com/CVGS3QokVd
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) November 27, 2019
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley thanked Trump for signing the bills.
“Thank you to @realDonaldTrump and members of Congress for standing with the people of Hong Kong!” she wrote on Twitter.
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) November 27, 2019
Similarly, Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong said the signing of the bills was a “remarkable achievement” that “would not be possible without the persistence and sacrifice of HK people.”
“The bill signifies fundamental change of US’s China policy and a new stage of the US-HK relation. Moving on, @demosisto, @hkdc_us, @nathanlawkc, @jeffreychngo and I will continue our efforts in other countries to encourage similar legislative efforts and sanctions mechanism,” Wong said in his Twitter post.
3/ The bill signifies fundamental change of US’s China policy and a new stage of the US-HK relation. Moving on, @demosisto, @hkdc_us, @nathanlawkc, @jeffreychngo and I will continue our efforts in other countries to encourage similar legislative efforts and sanctions mechanism.
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) November 28, 2019
Other Hong Kongers have expressed similar sentiments, urging other countries to pass similar bills.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is signed by Prst. Trump. I hope that this law could lead a wave of anti-authoritarianism in the global front and support the democratic movement in #HongKong. Next step: Global #HKHRDA . We need more countries to act with us. pic.twitter.com/HyyhjFpy8k
— Nathan Law 羅冠聰 😷 (@nathanlawkc) November 27, 2019
Trump’s actions defy the Chinese regime’s demand to “immediately take measures to prevent the act from becoming law” or risk seeing “strong countermeasures” from Beijing.
U.S. lawmakers said they believed the measures serve as a deterrent against the Chinese authorities cracking down on the ongoing demonstrations.
Under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, the U.S. secretary of State is required to certify annually whether Hong Kong is “sufficiently autonomous” to justify its special economic privileges granted under the United States-Hong Kong Police Act of 1992, which allows the United States to treat Hong Kong separately to the CCP in regards to matters of trade, investment, and immigration since the city reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
“The Act reaffirms and amends the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, specifies United States policy towards Hong Kong, and direct assessment of the political developments in Hong Kong,” Trump said in another statement.
Trump said that “[c]ertain provisions of the Act would interfere with the exercise of the President’s constitutional authority to state the foreign policy of the United States,” and that the U.S. administration will “treat each of the provisions of the Act consistently with the President’s constitutional authorities with respect to foreign relations.”
Eva Fu and Frank Fang contributed to this report.