The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill supporting Hong Kong protesters in their months-long fight for democratic reform on Tuesday.
At its core, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 aims to assess whether political developments in the city justify changing its unique treatment under U.S. law.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China, but it operates with “a largely separate” legal and economic system, the bill notes.
When enacted into law, the Act would require an annual review of the city’s autonomy, including reports on civil liberties and impacts of potential erosion to its U.S. cooperation.
Following the unanimous vote, the bill will head to the House of Representatives, which passed their own similar version last month.
However, the two chambers must sort out their differences before any legislation moves to President Donald Trump for consideration.
The Senate bill also lays out a process for the U.S. president to impose sanctions and travel restrictions to those responsible for threatening or implementing arbitrary detention, torture, forced confession of any individual in Hong Kong, according to CNN.
Additionally, it grants the U.S. president the power to impose sanctions on those who violate the 1997 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which sets the terms of the city’s autonomy following its handover from the United Kingdom.
The Senate also unanimously passed a second bill called the “Protect Hong Kong Act,” which would ban the export of certain non-lethal crowd-control munitions to Hong Kong police.
These items include tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns, according to Reuters.
Following the passage of the bill, China reportedly summoned William Klein, a senior U.S. diplomat, to issue a warning that they would retaliate if Trump signs the bill.
“We call on the US side to take a clear look at the situation and take steps to stop the act from becoming a law, and stop meddling in the internal affairs of China and Hong Kong, to avoid setting a fire that would only burn itself,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement.
The spokesman added, “If the U.S. sticks to its course, China will surely take forceful measures to resolutely oppose it to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests.”
The bill’s passage, along with China’s retaliatory statement, hit Hong Kong stocks as of Wednesday, with the Hang Seng Index losing as much as 1.1% after surging 2.9% in two days, Bloomberg noted.
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