U.S. Senators are working to fast-track a bill that would protect Hong Kong’s autonomy from China despite Beijing’s disapproval of U.S. involvement. As Hong Kong protests grow more violent, the urgency to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act has grown. Senator Marco Rubio, who sponsored the bill, and Jim Rich, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, are working to push the bill through Congress as quickly as possible in a ‘hotline process’ that could see the bill passed as quickly as Monday.
This bill puts Hong Kong’s status as an independent market under scrutiny. Under the bill, Hong Kong’s special status could be revoked if China’s military intervenes in the ongoing protests. It also calls for regular review of the area’s autonomy from China in order to maintain Hong Kong’s free market.
The revocation of Hong Kong’s status would be problematic for China because the nation depends on Hong Kong businesses’ capital inflows from the U.S. and across the world. More than that though, the bill represents the U.S.’ willingness to take a stand on China’s internal matters.
A bill like this one could be disastrous for the Trump administration’s trade talks with Beijing, which up until now, appeared to be heading in the right direction. The bill in itself sends a message to China that the U.S. is willing to involve itself in Chinese political disputes, something the nation’s government has vocalized concern about.
According to the South China Morning Post, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry Geng Shuang says the bill is “full of prejudice against China.” He also claimed that the Chinese government was committed to maintaining its “one country, two systems” policy and that the U.S. should “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and stop damaging Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”
The harsh words could signal trouble ahead for Trump, who is unlikely to veto the bipartisan bill once it passes through Congress. However, the bill’s passage doesn’t necessarily mean Beijing will walk away from the negotiation table. For one thing, it’s in both China and the U.S.’ best interests to work out a trade deal before anymore economic damage is done.
Plus, the impact of revoking Hong Kong’s trade status would have far-reaching consequences for the U.S. as well as China— it’s something neither country would want to happen. The use of military force to counteract violent protests is likely a last resort for China, making it unlikely the U.S. would need to revoke Hong Kong’s status even if the bill goes through.
Still, America’s support of Hong Kong as its people fight to hold onto their rights and push for democracy would be a blow to China at a time when the two nations are working on improving relations. China’s rhetoric in the lead-up to the bill’s passage has been strong. Shuang went as far as saying,
“China will take strong countermeasures in response to any wrong U.S. decision.”
While the countermeasures are unclear, it’s possible one could be the abandonment of trade talks.
The protests in Hong Kong have been escalating over the past few days as protesters and police clash in the city’s streets. The demonstrations were originally in response to an extradition law that would allow certain criminals to be extradited to China, however that bill has since been dismissed. Now, the protests have widened their scope to cover a range of democratic reforms and less interference from China.
The escalation has created tension between Beijing and the West as Chinese officials claim countries like the UK and the U.S. are fueling the unrest.
With the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act likely to make its way to Trump’s desk for approval early next week, most are expecting the president to back the bill. Then all eyes will be on Beijing to see whether Chinese officials will push back against the U.S.’ involvement.