- REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
- President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, taking a stand against China in support of human rights in Hong Kong.
- The House and the Senate passed two versions of the bill last week with overwhelming support.
- “I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people Hong Kong,” Trump said in a statement.
- But he added that certain provisions in the bill would “interfere with the exercise of the president’s constitutional authority to state the foreign policy of the US.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a provocative move in support of Hong Kong that is likely to strain relations with China.
The House and the Senate passed their own versions of the bill last week with overwhelming support; the Senate version ultimately headed to the president for signature.
The Senate bill would essentially require the State Department to ensure that Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” agreement with China is upheld each year for the US government to continue to afford Hong Kong with a special trade status.
It would also consider sanctions against people involved in human-rights abuses against Hong Kong citizens and would ensure visa protections for protesters in the US.
The Senate bill was introduced in May by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has been a vocal critic of China’s human-rights record, while the House version of the bill was introduced by Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey.
The president also signed a bill introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon that prohibits US exports of specified police equipment to Hong Kong.
“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people Hong Kong,” Trump said. “They are being enacted in the hope that leaders and representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long-term peace and prosperity for all.”
But he added that certain provisions in the bill would “interfere with the exercise of the president’s constitutional authority to state the foreign policy of the US.”
“My administration will treat each of the provisions of the act consistently with the president’s constitutional authorities with respect to foreign relations,” he said.
China’s foreign ministry last week condemned the Senate’s passage of the bill and vowed to protect the country’s national security.
Several senators who backed the legislation applauded Trump’s decision.
“The US now has new and meaningful tools to deter further influence and interference from Beijing into Hong Kong’s internal affairs,” Rubio said in a statement.
Rubio also praised Hong Kong’s recent local district elections, which saw unprecedented voter turnout and support for pro-democracy parties.
“Following last weekend’s historic elections in Hong Kong that included record turnout, this new law could not be more timely in showing strong US support for Hong Kongers’ long-cherished freedoms,” he said.
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland also spoke out in favor of the bill and the wide support in Washington for it.
“I am proud of this bipartisan law that sends a strong message to the demonstrators in Hong Kong, the government of Hong Kong, as well as the Communist Party of China: the United States is not only watching, but stands with demonstrators as they march for their autonomy, for their democracy, and for their human rights,” Cardin said. “We now have stronger legislative tools to back up our moral obligation to support Hong Kong’s autonomy and hold China accountable for violations of human rights.”
Protests began in Hong Kong in June against legislation that would have allowed for the extradition of Hong Kong residents to China, but they have since widened to target Chinese encroachment and police brutality in the semiautonomous region.
The US legislation follows a week of increased violence that spread to university campuses, culminating in a police siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in the neighborhood of Hung Hom.
The police last week said that roughly 4,500 people had been arrested since protests began.