US legislation aimed at protecting civil rights in Hong Kong and punishing those deemed responsible for suppressing freedoms has reached its final stage ahead of being enacted.

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Photo: VOA.

After the US Senate passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act unanimously on Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Senate’s version on Thursday. It was passed by 417 to 1, with Republican representative Thomas Massie being the only one voting in opposition.

The act will now be sent to US President Donald Trump for him to sign. Trump is expected to sign the legislation rather than veto it, according to Bloomberg citing an unnamed person familiar with the matter.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act will sanction officials considered to be harming human rights and freedom in Hong Kong. It will also require the US Secretary of State to certify whether Hong Kong continues to warrant special treatment after considering how well the city can make autonomous decisions relating to human rights, law enforcement and other areas.

Large-scale protests in Hong Kong, initially over a now-withdrawn extradition agreement proposal with mainland China, have entered their 25th week. The demonstrations have morphed into wider calls for democratic reform and accountability for alleged police brutality.

tear gas Jordan 18 November (3)32
Jordan. Photo: Kaiser/United Social Press.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the strongest advocate for the act, said during the debate: “Today, the Congress is sending an unmistakable message to the world that the United States stands in solidarity with freedom-loving people of Hong Kong, and they – we fully support their fight for freedom.”

Senator Marco Rubio, who first proposed the act, said it is now one signature away from becoming law.

“A powerful moment in which a united, bipartisan coalition made it clear that we #StandWithHongKong,” he tweeted.

The House also passed another Senate bill, the Protect Hong Kong Act, which bans the export of crowd-control weapons such as tear gas and rubber bullets to the Hong Kong police.

China protests

China has expressed its opposition to the US Congress passing the act through multiple channels, including through statements from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, National People’s Congress, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, among others.

Chinese vice foreign minister Ma Zhaoxu called in William Klein, acting charge d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in China, to lodge a strong protest. US Consul General Hanscom Smith was also summoned to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s office in Hong Kong in protest.

Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Commissioner in Hong Kong Xie Feng urged the US Executive Branch to not sign the act.

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“If the US side refuses to change its mind, the Chinese will take stern countermeasures, and the US side will face the consequences of its own doing,” Xie said.

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Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.