Two U.S. senators are planning to introduce a bipartisan bill that would sanction Chinese officials for undercutting Hong Kongs autonomy, hours after Beijing moved to impose a sweeping national security law on the territory.
Titled the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, the legislation aims to defend human rights in Hong Kong by penalizing officials complicit in the Chinese regimes meddling in the territory. It also proposes sanctions on banks that conduct “significant transactions” with entities involved in such abuse.
On May 21 evening, the Chinese regimes figurehead legislature, the National Peoples Congress (NPC), announced that it would propose a national security law for “establishing a legal system and enforcement mechanism to defend national security” in the former British colony of Hong Kong.
The measure would bypass Hong Kongs legislature, and likely pass unhindered—as the NPC is a ceremonial rubber-stamp that approves directives promulgated by the Chinese Communist Party.
Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced the U.S. bill upon news of Chinas proposal.
“The communist regime in Beijing would like nothing more than to extinguish the autonomy of Hong Kong and the rights of its people,” Toomey said in a press release on Thursday.
“In many ways, Hong Kong is the canary in the coal mine for Asia. Beijings growing interference could have a chilling effect on other nations struggling for freedom in Chinas shadow,” he continued.
The bill will target individuals who enforce Chinas new national security law and Hong Kong police officers who crack down on Hong Kong protesters. Since last June, Hongkongers have staged mass demonstrations against Beijings encroachment on local affairs—ignited by a since-scrapped extradition bill that would have allowed China to transfer people in Hong Kong for trial in courts controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.
Van Hollen commended the courage of Hong Kong protesters who persisted “[d]espite Chinas brutal crackdown.” He said theres “no time to waste” for the United States to take up the issue as the Chinese regime continues to “strip Hong Kong of its autonomy.”
President Donald Trump warned of a strong reaction if Beijing chooses to move ahead with imposing the national security law.
“If it happens, well address that issue very strongly,” he told reporters at the White House on Thursday, without elaborating.
Meanwhile, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus on Thursday urged Beijing to “honor its commitments and obligations in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” which guarantees Hong Kong a high degree of political freedom upon its transfer to Beijings rule in 1997.
Impinging on Hong Kongs fundamental freedoms will draw backlash and affect Hong Kongs international status, she warned.
“Any effort to impose national security legislation that does not reflect the will of the people of Hong Kong would be highly destabilizing, and would be met with strong condemnation from the United States and the international community,” she told The Epoch Times in an email.
The State Department has said it delayed issuing an annual report on Hong Kongs autonomy, to account for any further actions from Beijing.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, signed into law last year, mandates that the State Department determine whether the territory has retained sufficient political autonomy to preserve its special trading privileges with the United States.