WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate approved a bill Thursday that would penalize individuals or companies for conducting business with Chinese officials responsible for implementing Beijing’s new national security law on Hong Kong.
The Republican-led Senate unanimously passed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act one day after the Democratic majority House approved the measure without opposition.
The approvals were a rare display of bipartisan support in the face of an erosion of autonomy in Hong Kong, a former British colony that prospered as China’s most democratic city and a global financial hub.
The measure, which now goes to President Donald Trump to be signed into law, would impose mandatory sanctions on people or entities that materially contribute to China's failure to preserve Hong Kong's autonomy. The bill would also sanction financial institutions that do business with those individuals or entities.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that China’s newly enacted Hong Kong national security law was “an affront to all nations” and that Washington was taking steps to end special permissions for the Chinese region.
“The United States is deeply concerned about the law’s sweeping provisions and the safety of everyone living in the territory, including Americans,” Pompeo said.
The Chinese legislature, the National People’s Congress, adopted the national security law for Hong Kong on Tuesday, a day before the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule.
The law recommends harsh penalties for vaguely defined crimes such as “collusion with foreign countries.” Crimes such as damaging public transportation could be considered terrorist activity punishable by life in prison.
Legal analysts say it effectively ends political freedoms that long allowed Hong Kong residents to publicly express their political views and helped transform the territory into an international business hub.
“Article 38 of the new law also purports to apply to offenses committed outside of Hong Kong by nonresidents of Hong Kong, and this likely includes Americans. This is outrageous and an affront to all nations,” Pompeo said.
Nike Ching contributed to this report.