U.S. senators are using the “hotline” method to push for swift passage of a bill supporting the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, as tensions in the city escalated to new levels in the past week.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act will require the U.S. administration to conduct annual reviews to ensure the city is sufficiently autonomous from mainland China to justify special trade privileges the United States currently affords it.
The United States currently treats Hong Kong as a separate entity from the mainland in economic and trade matters, even after the former British colony was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997 after the signing of the 1984 Sino–British Joint Declaration.
The proposal would also impose sanctions on any officials accountable for human rights violations in the city. A companion version of the bill in the House passed unanimously in October.
The hotline process, initiated by Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), will bypass the regular roll-call voting procedure. The process requires leaders of both parties to come to an agreement. Each senator would then be informed and provided a specified amount of time to object to the bill. If no objection is raised, the bill is considered passed.
Rubio’s office said that if no one objects, the bill could be passed as early as by the end of the day.
“Now more than ever, the United States must send a clear message to Beijing that the free world stands with Hong Kongers in their struggle,” Rubio said in a press release, while expressing appreciation for support from the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other senators.
He also expressed regret to see the loss of “young Hong Kong lives.”
On Nov. 8, a 22-year-old computer science student died, days after he fell one story from a parking lot and sustained severe brain injuries. Before he fell, police had been firing tear gas into the parking lot.
Police also charged into Hong Kong campuses and a church to make arrests this week, marking the first time they have entered such premises. 1,567 canisters of tear gas were fired on Nov. 12 alone, most of which were concentrated at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“The world needs to see that the United States will stand up and tell the Chinese Communist Party that what they are doing to the people of Hong Kong is wrong,” Risch said in the press release.
Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule with the expressed guarantee of a high degree of political freedom not enjoyed in the mainland. U.S. and U.K. officials have urged Beijing to honor its promises in light of the intensifying crisis in Hong Kong.
“After more than two decades of broken promises, it is time to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for its erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy,” Risch said.
Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a bill co-sponsor, also took to Twitter on Nov. 14 to relay news about the hotline. He expressed optimism that the “[p]assage should be imminent.”
Hawley recently introduced the Hong Kong Be Water Act to call for Magnitsky Act sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials involved in curbing Hongkongers’ freedoms of speech and assembly. He had said that “Hong Kong is rapidly becoming a police state.”
Highlighting the sharp decline in press freedom since Hong Kong’s handover to China, as well as Beijing’s “overt and covert means” to intervene in Hong Kong affairs, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in an annual report (pdf) released on Thursday recommended suspending Hong Kong’s special status in the event of a military intervention by the Chinese regime to quell ongoing protests.