US Senate passes China sanctions bill over Hong Kong

The US Senate has unanimously passed a bill imposing sanctions on Chinese officials who undermine Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status, as well as the banks and state entities that do business with them. 

Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic senator from Maryland and one of the bill’s co-authors, said the legislation would require the Trump administration to “impose sanctions on individuals in the government of China who are undermining the rights of people in Hong Kong”. He added that any bank seen as “aiding and abetting” Beijing in impinging the rights of Hong Kongers “can be subject to sanctions”.

The bill passed the US Senate by voice-vote one week after Kevin Cramer, one of the bill’s Republican co-sponsors, blocked its passage when the administration proposed what senators described as last-minute technical changes. 

Pat Toomey, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania and the legislation’s co-author said the senators had “worked extensively “with the administration “to the point that they were in agreement with this legislation”.

The legislation was passed alongside a resolution by Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, which condemned China’s decision to impose a national security law on Hong Kong. Critics said the move to bypass the city’s legislature was the latest sign of Beijing’s efforts to whittle away at Hong Kong’s autonomy, after months of pro-democracy protests in the territory last year.

“I certainly hope that after this big step of passage here on the Senate floor today, this legislation — both pieces — the resolution and the sanctions legislation — are on their way soon to the president’s desk for his signature,” he said. 

The legislation will now be taken up in the House of Representatives where two lawmakers have introduced a companion bill. It is unclear if the White House will implement the bill.

The administration has pursued a more aggressive approach to Beijing recently, with President Donald Trump signing into law a sanctions bill that requires the administration to compile a report on China’s mass internment of millions of Muslim Uighurs and identify Chinese government officials to impose sanctions on.

The move came after the US president admitted he had held off on imposing sanctions as he sought a trade deal with Beijing.

“This is a good moment for the United State Senate,” Mr Hawley said, after Washington lawmakers displayed a rare moment of bipartisanship. “This is a moment where we’ve been able to speak with one voice and send a clear message to Beijing that its attempt to steamroll and destroy the liberties for the people of Hong Kong will not go unnoticed and will not go unaddressed.”