Last week, both the Senate and House passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act (S.1838), which would require the United States to review annually Hong Kong’s special trading relationship, and pave the way for sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights violations in the city.
Congress also passed legislation (S.2710) that would prohibit the export of control equipment to Hong Kong police, who have been accused of using violence and heavy-handed tactics to quell demonstrations.
“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said in a statement. “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.”
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 status granted under the United States–Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.
The Policy Act has allowed the United States to deal with Hong Kong separately from the mainland in matters of trade, investment, and immigration since the city reverted to Chinese rule in 1997. For instance, the city isn’t subject to the current U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports.
“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 “certain 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.”
Hong Kong has seen renewed protests after a peaceful day on Nov. 24, when the city’s pro-democracy camp scored a landslide victory against the pro-Beijing establishment in local elections.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who introduced the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in the House, applauded the president for signing the bill, saying that the enactment of the act “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.”
He criticized the deteriorating human rights situations in China under the regime, including the “pervasive use of torture,” religious persecution, and “genocide” against Uyghurs in the Muslim-practising region of Xinjiang.
“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 said in a statement. He said that the new law would pave the way for “strong sanctions … for the crackdown and abuse of power.”
“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,” Smith said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who spearheaded the Senate version of the legislation, said that the news will equip the U.S. administration with “new and meaningful tools to deter further influence and interference from Beijing into Hong Kong’s internal affairs.”
“This new law could not be more timely in showing strong U.S. support for Hong Kongers’ long-cherished freedoms,” he said.
Beijing had sought to prevent the bill from becoming law.
On Nov. 20, right after the Act passed through Congress, seven Chinese regime agencies came out blasting U.S. lawmakers for siding with the protesters.
Geng Shuang, the foreign ministry spokesperson, said on Nov. 20 that the United States must “immediately take measures to prevent the act from becoming law” or face “strong countermeasures.”
A representative from the Hong Kong office of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued a similar warning.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” the statement read, using a phrase historically interpreted as threatening warfare.
Smith said the Act’s passage could be a blow to China’s export-driven economy.
“If they lose trading benefits because of their deterioration in respecting the autonomy and basic human rights, it will be a catastrophic blow to the economy in China,” he said.