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US Senator Kamala Harris, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, is seen campaigning in South Carolina on Saturday. Photo: The Augusta Chronicle via AP

Three more US senators back Hong Kong bill, including presidential candidate Kamala Harris

  • Kamala Harris, a Democrat, joined nearly a third of her Senate colleagues in cosponsoring the legislation, which has already passed in the US House
  • The proposed law would place economic sanctions on people the US deem to have violated the terms of Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China

US Senator Kamala Harris, who is also a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, became the latest lawmaker to come out in favour of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, bringing the number of cosponsors to nearly one-third of the Senate.

Harris, who represents California, pledged her support for the bill as a cosponsor on Tuesday, along with Republican Senator John Hoeven of Florida and Democratic Senator Christopher Murphy of Connecticut.

The three additions mean there are now 31 cosponsors, nearly one-third of the 100 senators in Congress’s upper chamber.

The bill, which would place economic sanctions on individuals deemed to have violated the terms of Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China, could go to a Senate vote early as this week. It was passed by the House of Representatives with no objections last week.

The legislation needs a simple majority, or 51 votes, in the Senate to pass. Differences between the House and Senate versions would then need to be reconciled before the bill is sent to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

The bill, written to serve as an amendment to the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, would require the US State Department’s sign-off on annual government reports meant to determine whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous from mainland China. Under the act that is already in place, those reviews are completed by US consular officials in the city.

The 1992 act was passed to maintain regular commercial and economic ties with Hong Kong after sovereignty over the city was handed back to Beijing by Britain in 1997, and serves to dissuade China’s government from curtailing the territory’s civil liberties and rule of law, as protected by Hong Kong’s Basic Law.

Harris, whose poll numbers have been dropping in early primary voting states, has been vocal about her support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

In an August tweet, she said: “I stand with the people of Hong Kong and affirm the fundamental right of all people to peacefully protest for their rights.”

“We can’t ignore Beijing’s failure to respect the rights and autonomy of Hong Kong’s people and the Hong Kong government’s excessive use of force against peaceful protesters,” she said in a question-and-answer session with the Council of Foreign Relations in August.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination next year, signed on to the bill last week.

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“Despite Beijing’s promise to maintain Hong Kong’s autonomy, in recent years, it has eroded key democratic institutions, leading hundreds of thousands of citizens to take to the streets to protest peacefully,” Warren said in an opinion piece published this month in Foreign Policy.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, speaks to striking Chicago teachers on Tuesday. Photo: Getty Images/AFP

The legislation was introduced in June by seven bipartisan cosponsors led by Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Last month, Rubio called for the bill’s passage to show support for the protest movement, saying: “What’s happening in Hong Kong is not simply China’s internal affair. The United States and other responsible nations are not watching from the sidelines.”

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, another leading contender for the Democratic nomination, is not a cosponsor.