The Senate unanimously approved a pair of bills Tuesday meant to support the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that have caused mass demonstrations across the region for months.
Lawmakers passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act by unanimous consent, which would mandate that the State Department report annually on Hong Kong’s status as an autonomous territory of China. The legislation would also impose sanctions on any officials who commit human rights violations in Hong Kong.
“Today, the United States Senate sent a clear message to Hong Kongers fighting for their long-cherished freedoms: We hear you, we continue to stand with you, and we will not stand idly by as Beijing undermines your autonomy,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “The passage of this bill is an important step in holding accountable those Chinese and Hong Kong government officials responsible for Hong Kong’s eroding autonomy and human rights violations.”
The legislation now goes to the House, where a similar version has already been approved. If passed, it will then be sent to President Donald Trump for consideration, although he has largely stayed quiet on the issue.
Millions have turned out en masse across the territory since June. The demonstrations initially opposed an extradition bill that would have allowed residents to be sent to mainland China for trial, a measure that was later withdrawn. But they have since grown to include calls for a broader change in government and resistance to encroachment from Beijing.
The Chinese government has voiced strong opposition to the protests, and the country’s president, Xi Jinping, has supported Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam. He has also called some of the protesters “violent criminals.”
“Halting the violence and restoring order remain the most important duty in Hong Kong at present,” Xi said earlier this month, according to China’s official news agency.
Though the demonstrations have largely been calm, some protests have grown violent in recent weeks, and dramatic images of people wielding Molotov cocktails and breaking windows have spread across social media. The police have responded with force, using tear gas and even opening fire at times with live rounds.
Many people have been injured, and a university student died after falling off a roof during a demonstration. The police have threatened to use more lethal force, prompting international condemnation.
“Today’s vote sends a clear message that the United States will continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong as they battle Beijing’s imperialism,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who recently traveled to Hong Kong, said in a statement. “The Chinese Communist Party’s quest for power across the region is a direct threat to America’s security and prosperity.”
The Senate on Tuesday also unanimously passed legislation that would ban the export of certain crowd control munitions to the Hong Kong Police Force for a year, including tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.
“Today, the U.S. Senate sent a strong and bipartisan message that the United States will not be complicit in the Chinese authorities’ crackdown on pro-democracy protesters,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “Day after day, we are seeing peaceful protesters being subjected to state-sponsored oppression, violence, and human rights abuses for demonstrating in support of a democratic future for Hong Kong. The U.S. should always stand with those seeking freedom and democracy, not with their oppressors.”