US bill on HK democracy, which has angered China, gets approval in House and Senate committees

27-Sep-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

A US bill written to support democratic freedoms in Hong Kong by increasing pressure on Chinese authorities moved closer to becoming law on Wednesday after receiving approval by two congressional committees.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, which Beijing has branded as interference in its domestic affairs, moved through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, setting the stage for votes in both chambers in the coming weeks.

The bill passed the House committee in a unanimous vote, said Jeff Sagnip, policy director for Representative Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who sponsored the legislation in that chamber.

An identical version of the bill, sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, was approved by the Senate committee shortly afterwards.

Representative Chris Smith talks about his Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in September 2019. On Tuesday the bill passed the House committee and entered the vote stage.(South China Morning Post)

Representative Chris Smith talks about his Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in September 2019. On Tuesday the bill passed the House committee and entered the vote stage.(South China Morning Post)

“Getting out of the committee is the big step,” said Sagnip, who added that “a floor vote [in the full House of Representatives] will take place sometime in October”, most likely shortly after Columbus Day, a US federal holiday, on October 14.

The legislation is intended to act as an amendment to the US-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, which kept US business and other ties to the city intact after its 1997 handover from Britain to China.

If passed, the act would, among other mandates, require the US to sanction Chinese officials deemed responsible for “undermining basic freedoms in Hong Kong”.

“Every time we pushed for passage there was opposition from diplomats, experts, committee chairs, and the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong,” Smith told members of the House committee, referring to earlier versions of the bill, which did not clear the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“This time, however, is different. The situation on the ground in Hong Kong is different, and there is a growing realisation that for a free and autonomous Hong Kong, the hour is very late.

“Congress is sending a clear bipartisan and bicameral statement of support of the democracy protesters in Hong Kong while underscoring the need for Beijing to live up to the commitments it made to the world and the people of Hong Kong when it signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” Smith added.

The joint declaration, signed by the two countries in 1984, guaranteed that Hong Kong would retain a high degree of autonomy for 50 years after the 1997 handover of the former UK colony to China.

Hours before the committee votes in Washington, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the 1984 accord should not be used as “an excuse” to interfere in the city’s affairs.

“We urge the US side… to respect China’s sovereignty, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and stop making irresponsible statements,” Geng said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

“The speed with which the bills have worked their way through committee shows the commitment of Congressional leaders to Hong Kong and the increasing support from members of Congress in both parties,” Samuel Chu, managing director of the Washington-based advocacy group Hong Kong Democracy Council, said in a statement.

“We are hopeful that House Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader [Mitch] McConnell will keep the pressure on the Chinese and Hong Kong governments by quickly scheduling and taking up the votes for the Act when Congress returns from recess,” Chu added.

Support for the legislation in the full chambers of the House and Senate has gained momentum in recent weeks.

The number of cosponsors has risen to 37 representatives and 22 senators, up from six and seven, respectively, when the current bills were introduced in June.



Category: Hong Kong

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