On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump signed into law leglislation that could bring economic sanctions and diplomatic action against Hong Kong, ignoring warnings by China.
“The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act reaffirms and amends the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, specifies United States policy towards Hong Kong and directs assessment of the political developments in Hong Kong,” the White House said in a statement. “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.”
The legislation has provoked a backlash from the Chinese government, which on Monday summoned US ambassador to China Terry Branstad to warn that Congress’ passage of the legislation last week constituted “meddling” in the country’s internal affairs and would result in “consequences”.
Trump also signed into law the PROTECT Hong Kong act, which will prohibit the sale of US-made munitions such as tear gas and rubber bullets to the city’s authorities.
“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China and the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said in a White House press release. “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.”
The summoning of Branstad by vice-minister of foreign affairs Zheng Zeguang was the third protest issued by Beijing in less than a week over the legislation. “All consequences arising [from the bill’s becoming law] must be borne entirely by the United States,” Zheng’s ministry announced after his meeting with Branstad.
The law will, among other mandates, allow Washington to suspend Hong Kong’s special trading status based on an annual certification by the State Department about whether the city retains a sufficient degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework.
It will also give the State Department the discretion to sanction people deemed responsible for acts that undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China, and directs its officers not to deny visas to individuals subjected to “politically motivated” arrests or detention in the city.
The bill’s author, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, said that with the legislation’s enactment, the US now had “new and meaningful tools to deter further influence and interference from Beijing into Hong Kong’s internal affairs.”
In accordance with the law, the Commerce Department will have 180 days to produce a report examining whether the Chinese government has tried use Hong Kong’s special trading status to import advanced “dual use” technologies in violation of US export control laws. Dual use technologies are those that can have commercial and military applications.
The law requires that the Commerce Department, in conjunction with the Treasury and State departments, produce the export control report annually for at least seven years.
Trump’s signing of the bill comes during a period of unprecedented unrest in Hong Kong, where anti-government protests sparked by a now-shelved extradition bill proposal have ballooned into broader calls for democratic reform and police accountability.
Many of those protesting have called on the international community – and particularly the US government – to support their cause.
The bill’s passage came in the wake of a landslide victory for pan-democrats in Hong Kong’s local elections on Sunday, with the pro-democracy camp winning in 17 of the city’s 18 districts.
“Following last weekend’s historic elections in Hong Kong that included record turnout, this new law could not be more timely in showing strong US support for Hongkongers’ long-cherished freedoms,” said Rubio.