President Trump, ignoring warnings from China, signed into law Wednesday two bills targeting Hong Kong authorities and supporting pro-democracy protesters there.
The law amends the 1992 U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act to require annual reviews by the State Department of Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China, on which will now turn Hong Kong getting to keep its favorable trade status with the U.S. or having it be suspended. The bill also allows for sanctions on people who undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy from China.
A second bill signed into law prohibits the export of U.S. crowd-control munitions to Hong Kong police.
China’s government has warned that signing the legislation would damage U.S.-China relations and prompt some form of retaliation.
The new laws come amid efforts by the Trump administration to reach a trade deal that Mr. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping by year’s end.
“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong,” Mr. 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.”
The legislation was passed by wide margins in both the House and Senate in a show of support for pro-democracy protesters in the former British colony.
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors, praised its passage into law. “The U.S. now has new and meaningful tools to deter further influence and interference from Beijing into Hong Kong’s internal affairs,” he said.
Hong Kong has been rocked by mass protests for the past several months, some involving violent clashes between protesters and police.
The second bill Mr. Trump signed bans exports to the Hong Kong police of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, foam rounds, bean bag rounds, pepper balls, water cannons, handcuffs, shackles, stun guns and Tasers — all items they have been using against the protesters.
The demonstrations and violence have escalated since police shot and killed one of the protesters earlier this month.
Recent elections in Hong Kong produced a landslide for pro-democracy candidates with nearly 90% of the district council seats going to pan-democratic candidates — a setback for Beijing’s efforts to assert greater control.
The protests were sparked by a proposed law that would permit Hong Kong residents to be extradited to China, where the courts are controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The measure was widely viewed as a critical step by China to impose its system on Hong Kong, which has stayed relatively free under the agreement with Britain under which Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997. China promised then to allow “one country, two systems.”
Comments by Mr. Trump last week raised doubts about whether he would sign the legislation, telling Fox News that “we have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi. He’s a friend of mine. He’s an incredible guy … I’d like to see them work it out, OK?”
“But,” he concluded, “I stand with Hong Kong. I stand with freedom.”
Mr. Trump also claimed that because the administration is in the process of working out a trade deal that both the United States and China want, Beijing has not used greater force to put down the pro-democracy protests.
“And I will say this, if it weren’t for me, thousands of people would have been killed in Hong Kong right now,” Mr. Trump said.
Chinese officials have denounced the legislation as interfering with the country’s domestic affairs.
The Communist Party of China newspaper People’s Daily stated in a front-page editorial last week: “If the U.S. side obstinately clings to its course, the Chinese side will inevitably adopt forceful measures to take resolute revenge, and all consequences will be borne by the United States.”
The democracy law states that it is U.S. policy to reaffirm the 1992 Hong Kong policy law including support for democratization in Hong Kong. It also states that the human rights of the people of Hong Kong are of great importance to the United States and directly relevant to U.S. interests in Hong Kong and for its continued economic prosperity.
“Hong Kong must remain sufficiently autonomous from the People’s Republic of China to justify treatment under a particular law of the United States, or any provision thereof, different from that accorded the People’s Republic of China,” the legislation states.
The democracy bill also supported many of the protesters demands.
In addition to complete elimination of the extradition law, Hong Kong’s protesters are demanding the authorities stop referring to them as “rioters,” to drop criminal charges against those arrested; to conduct an independent inquiry into police brutality and to allow universal suffrage for the Legislative Council and chief executive.