The legislation imposes sanctions on Chinese officials engaged in a crackdown on Hong Kong. It also penalises banks doing business with Chinese officials who implement Beijing's new national security law on the semi-autonomous city.

People detained by riot police during a march against national security law at the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from Britain in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2020.
People detained by riot police during a march against national security law at the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from Britain in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2020. (Reuters)

US Congress has approved a bill rebuking China over its crackdown in Hong Kong amid protests against a strict “national security” law that outlaws so-called subversive or terrorist acts, as well as collusion with foreign forces intervening in the city’s affairs.

Critics say the new law effectively ends the “one country, two systems” framework under which Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy when it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

The US legislation would impose sanctions on groups that undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, including police units that have cracked down on Hong Kong protesters, as well as Chinese Communist Party officials responsible for imposing the new security law.

The bill also imposes sanctions on banks that do business with entities found to violate the law.

The Senate gave final legislative approval to the measure on Thursday, a day after the House approved it. It now goes to the White House.

READ MORE: Hong Kong arrests hundreds protesting China's national security law

'Betrayal of the international agreement'

The White House declined to comment, but in a television interview on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence called the new Hong Kong security law a betrayal of the international agreement China signed.

“President Trump has made it clear that we’re going to be modifying our trading relationship and the trading status with regard to Hong Kong and we’re going to continue to speak out on behalf of the people of Hong Kong and on behalf of human rights of people within China,” Pence told CNBC.

Senator Chris Van Hollen, a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, said passage of the “Hong Kong Autonomy Act” makes it clear that the US “will not stand by as China seeks to crush freedom, human rights and democracy in Hong Kong”.

The Chinese government “is already flagrantly using their new authorities to punish and imprison those who have stood up against the recent implementation of their sweeping national security law”, Van Hollen said.

“Our legislation mandates severe consequences on those who participate in this unconscionable repression.”

Senator Pat Toomey, the bill's other lead sponsor, urged Trump to sign it into law. “With our bill, the CCP will learn there are ramifications for repressing Hong Kongers’ freedom,” Toomey said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also praised the sanctions bill as “an urgently needed response to the cowardly Chinese government’s passage of its so-called national security law."

Lawmakers from both parties have urged the Trump administration to take strong action in response to the crackdown by China against the former British territory, which was granted partial sovereignty under a treaty that took effect in 1997.

READ MORE: China tells foreign critics 'none of your business' on Hong Kong law

'More and more authoritarian'

Hong Kong's fate shows China's true authoritarianism so the rest of the world should stand up to President Xi Jinping and start to put human rights above financial gain, activist Nathan Law told Reuters.

"The protests in Hong Kong have been a window for the world to recognise that China is getting more and more authoritarian," Law told Reuters via internet video. 

Law, 26, left Hong Kong this week. He declined to disclose his location.

Law called on the international community to put human rights above the financial interests of trading with the world's second largest economy and to "multilaterally deal with the China issue in a more assertive way."

"It is important we prioritise human rights issues over trade when we deal with China," he said.

China prepares 'strong countermeasures'

Ahead of the Senate vote, China promised to take "strong countermeasures" if the US presses ahead with tough new sanctions.

"We urge the US to grasp the reality of the situation, stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and implementing the negative bill, otherwise we will take strong countermeasures," said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.

Sanctuary calls

Former colonial power Britain has said the law breaches Beijing's "One Country, Two Systems" promise to grant Hong Kongers key liberties – as well as judicial and legislative autonomy – until 2047, a promise made as the city was handed back to Beijing in 1997.

As a result, London has announced plans to allow millions of Hong Kongers with British National Overseas status to relocate with their families and eventually apply for citizenship.

"We will live up to our promises to them," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told parliament.

That has infuriated Beijing, which says Britain promised not to grant full citizenship rights to Hong Kongers ahead of the handover.

"We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures," China's embassy in London said Thursday.

READ MORE: China warns of retaliation if UK offers residency to Hongkongers


The security law is controversial because it radically increases China's control over Hong Kong.

Beijing says it is needed to quell seething anti-Beijing protests and restore order after a year of political unrest.

But critics fear it will usher in a new era of political repression given similar laws are routinely used to crush dissent on the Chinese mainland.

China says it will have jurisdiction over some cases and has empowered its security agents to operate openly inside Hong Kong for the first time, unconstrained by local laws .

It has also claimed global jurisdiction, saying the law covers national security offences committed overseas -- even by foreigners.

Some trials will be held behind closed doors and without juries, while local police have been granted sweeping surveillance powers that no longer need judicial sign off.

The influential Hong Kong Bar Association said the law dismantles the legal firewall that has existed between Hong Kong's judiciary and China's Communist Party-controlled courts, a key plank of the city's reputation as a business hub.

The new national security offences were "widely drawn", the group said, and "are capable of being applied in a manner that is arbitrary, and that disproportionately interferes with fundamental rights, including the freedom of conscience, expression and assembly".

It also criticised "the total absence of meaningful consultation" with Hong Kongers before the law was passed.

China dismissed the association's concerns, and said their claim the law lacked meaningful consultation was "totally unfounded".

READ MORE: US ends arms exports to China, restricts visas amid Hong Kong row

Source: TRTWorld and agencies