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US Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, is a sponsor of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. Photo: Reuters

Marco Rubio, sponsor of Hong Kong pro-democracy bill, claims ‘very significant progress’ on the pending legislation

  • The Republican senator cites progress on bill after meeting with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell but offers no details
  • The pro-democracy bill has the support of more than one-third of the Senate’s 100 members but has not been brought up for a vote

The sponsor of US legislation aimed at supporting democracy in Hong Kong said he made “significant progress” on Wednesday in moving the bill toward passage.

Senator Marco Rubio, sponsor of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, posted the comment on Twitter shortly after a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who would make the call on whether to put the bill to a vote, and Senator Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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Rubio’s office did not respond to a request for details about what progress was achieved.

Rubio, a Republican representing Florida, has gained bipartisan support for his bill, which has 38 cosponsors including Democratic presidential contenders Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey, representing more than one-third of the Senate.

The legislation, which was passed by the US House of Representatives with no objections last month, would place economic sanctions on individuals deemed to have violated the terms of Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China.

The version in the House was co-sponsored by one-fifth of its 438 members. If passed by the Senate, the two bills will be consolidated into one and sent to US President Donald Trump for his approval. He has not indicated whether he would sign it into law.

McConnell’s office also did not respond to a request for comment about the meeting with Rubio or whether the Senate majority leader would bring the bill to a vote.

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Among dozens of pending pieces of legislation aimed at countering Beijing on multiple fronts, Rubio’s bill has angered the Chinese government, which has called the effort interference in China’s internal affairs.

Fielding questions in Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that “the issue Hong Kong faces is by no means about human rights or democracy, but rather about ending violence and chaos, restoring order and upholding rule of law”.

Geng’s remarks came after Risch – whose committee unanimously approved the bill in September – said in Washington on Tuesday that he wanted to see the legislation moved to a vote on the Senate floor.

“The US Congressman, turning a blind eye to the Hong Kong protesters’ flagrant offences including beating people, smashing properties and setting fires, openly bolstered radical forces and violent criminals,” Geng said. “The aim is to undermine Hong Kong's stability and prosperity and to contain China’s development.”