Beijing has slammed a move by US congressional panels to approve Hong Kong-related bills envisioning sanctions for human rights abuses and requiring the US president to assess annually if Hong Kong is sufficiently independent.
The legislation, known as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, passed through the House and the Senate Foreign Relations Committees on Wednesday, and is now slated for a floor vote in both chambers.
The bills, sponsored by Republican Senator Marco Rubio (Florida) and Representative Chris Smith (New Jersey), have proved to be among the least contentious in Congress, which is largely divided along party lines.
The act has been championed by Hong Kong ‘pro-democracy’ activists themselves, who came to Washington to rally behind the legislation and testified before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China last Tuesday.
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The bill would force the US president to report to Congress on Hong Kong’s autonomy every year, and to determine whether Beijing is acting to limit its independence in any way. If the White House believes the territory’s special status is not being respected, then the former British enclave would lose its trade privileges.
The legislation drew fire from China, incensed over Washington’s attempts to meddle in its internal affairs.
In a statement on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang lambasted the move to advance the bill, saying that US lawmakers had opted to ignore instances of violence by protesters and “openly supported the radical forces and violent elements in Hong Kong.”
Calling the move “a gross interference in China’s internal affairs,” the spokesman said that the passage of the bill has “fully exposed the sinister intentions of some people in the United States to disrupt Hong Kong and contain China’s development.”
He argued that the passage of the bill would not only fuel the unrest in Hong Kong, but also harm US interests there, while promising a stern response from Beijing.
“Any move by the US to harm China’s interests will be strongly countered by us.”
Geng urged US officials to stop promoting the bill “[so] as not to further damage Sino-US relations.”
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Previously, Beijing said that if the bill is to be passed, it would deal a serious blow to the confidence of international stakeholders in Hong Kong, including American companies.
“We don’t want to see that happen, and we urge the US to immediately stop the process, which does nobody good,” Song Ruan, deputy commissioner of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong, said on Wednesday.
The city’s protests – originally over a now-scrapped extradition bill that would have allowed the territory to hand over criminal suspects to mainland China – have gripped Hong Kong since March.
While the demonstrations were largely peaceful at the onset, as tensions ramped up, they descended into violence and saw anti-Beijing protesters pelting government buildings with Molotov cocktails and throwing projectiles at officers, forcing them to resort to tear gas and water cannon to quash the unrest.
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