The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a human rights legislation on Nov. 19 that supports pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in June, would require that the U.S. Secretary of State assess annually whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous from mainland China to warrant the special trade privileges currently afforded to it.
Since the territory reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997, under the express guarantee that its autonomy be preserved, the United States has treated it as a separate entity from mainland China in matters of trade, investment, and visas.
U.S. lawmakers initiated the legislation as the Hong Kong government was seeking to pass an extradition bill that many Hongkongers feared would further erode its autonomy.
The U.S. bill is widely seen by Hong Kong protesters as a form of economic pressure for the Hong Kong government and the Chinese regime.
The House version of the bill passed unanimously on Oct. 15. Now, the bill will need the president’s approval before it becomes law.
The legislation would also enact U.S. sanctions on foreign officials for any gross violations of international human rights standards, such as arbitrary detention, torture, or coerced confessions of individuals in Hong Kong.
It further specifies that visa applicants from Hong Kong who wish to study or work in the United States should not face discrimination due to “politically-motivated arrest, detention, or other adverse government action.”
On the Senate floor on Tuesday evening, Sen. Ben Cardin (R-Md.) said that “peaceful protesters who are asking nothing more than to exercise their rights that they were told would be protected, to express their views and to have democracy in Hong Kong” be protected.
“We gave them that special status upon their protecting democracy and human rights in Hong Kong … and if they [Chinese regime] don’t comply with that special status, [it] should no longer be available,” he added.
Seven additional senators signed on as co-sponsors of the bill the previous day, increasing the number to 49 as the city saw the worst violence since mass protests began in June. Police besieged the Polytechnic University (PolyU) campus, where hundreds of protesters were trapped since the weekend.
Police told reporters at a Nov. 19 press briefing that on Tuesday, they fired 1,458 rounds of tear gas bullets, 1,391 rubber bullets, 325 bean bag rounds and 265 sponge grenades. Some roughly 5,000 protesters have been arrested since June.