President Donald Trump recently signed two bills into law, effectively supporting pro-democracy efforts in Hong Kong, despite clear threats of “strong countermeasures” from the Chinese government against “meddling” in internal affairs of the Communist regime.
Both the House and the Senate unanimously approved the bills last week, following more than six months of political unrest in the embattled semi-autonomous city — blamed for multiple human rights violations, disruption to mass transportation, and an often bloody stand-off between police forces and protesters (as young as 10 years old), who would often wave the American flag in demonstrations to symbolize their call for democracy.
“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said in a statement upon signing the bipartisan bills into law on Wednesday, a move that has angered the Chinese government and effectively threatens to complicate trade talks.
It has also surprised critics who noted that Trump will cower to China’s earlier demand that he veto the proposals to salvage the ongoing trade talks between the US and China.
“They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all,” Trump said.
What’s In the Bill?
The “Human Rights and Democracy Act,” among others, mandates an annual review of the former British colony, to “see whether China has eroded Hong Kong’s civil liberties and rule of law as protected by Hong Kong’s Basic Law,” and assess if Hong Kong still has enough autonomy to justify its special status with the US — which means it is not affected by US sanctions or tariffs placed on the mainland.
It will also carry out sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who exercise human rights abuses related to the protests.
The bill also noted that the US would still allow Hong Kong nationals to obtain US visas, despite being arrested for taking part in the protests.
“Hong Kong is part of China but has a largely separate legal and economic system,” the bill said.
The other bill that Trump signed will ban the export of “non-lethal, crowd-control munitions” to the Hong Kong police — including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannons, tasers, and stun guns — in a clear rebuttal to the authorities’ use of force to clear massive protests.
Hong Kong’s History
The protests were initially triggered by an already withdrawn extradition bill, which would have allowed the transfer to mainland China of any suspected law violators in Hong Kong — which raised questions on whether Beijing is violating the provisions of the “one country, two systems” structure that has allowed the former British colony to enjoy autonomy for 50 more years after the handover in 1997. Critics said the extradition bill would undermine the independence of Hong Kong’s legal system.
Trump earlier committed to giving the measures a “hard look” but also acknowledging the possible consequences of signing the bill to the trade deal that both parties are working out.
“Look, we have to stand with Hong Kong,” Trump told “Fox & Friends” last week. “But I’m also standing with President Xi. He’s a friend of mine. He’s an incredible guy.”
The US Congress already signaled that it is ready to reverse a decision against the proposals. With the widespread congressional support, lawmakers could overturn a potential presidential veto.
China Lashes Out
Following the enactment of the bill, Beijing reacted furiously and lashed out at the US, threatening “countermeasures.”
Reports said China called the laws a “naked hegemonic action” that seriously interfered in Hong Kong and China’s internal affairs, and also violated international law and “fundamental norms of international relations.”
“The US side ignored facts, turned black to white, and blatantly gave encouragement to violent criminals who smashed and burned, harmed innocent city residents, trampled on the rule of law and endangered social order,” China’s foreign ministry said, adding that the intent of the bill “is to undermine Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability along with the historical progress of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
China also called the proposals “extremely evil in nature and dangerous in motive.”
“We advise the U.S. not to act incautiously, otherwise China will be required to counteract resolutely and all the consequences created by this will have to be borne by the US side,” the statement added.
Even before Trump signed the bills, China already warned of “strong countermeasures” if the “Human Rights and Democracy Act” bill should be signed into law. China’s foreign ministry summoned US Ambassador in Shanghai, Terry Branstad, early this week “to protest against the passing” of the twin measures and “to correct its errors and stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and interfering in China’s internal matters.”
“China expresses its strong resentment and resolute opposition.”
Support At Home and Abroad
The US Congress and pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong, however, hailed Trump’s move to stand by the protesters despite a possible retaliation from Beijing.
“You know Trump’s the real deal when, he’s willing to blow up his own China deal, to stand with Hong Kong!,” one comment said.
“The USA should always stand for Human Rights, home and abroad,” another commented.
“I’m democrat and don’t like him but this was actually good. Ok, this is well done by him.”
— hkisneverchina (@hkisntchina4eva) November 28, 2019
Thank you Mr. Trump for standing with freedom fighters of #HongKong ! @realDonaldTrump Signs Hong Kong Democracy Legislation That Has Angered China https://t.co/effsfCdT9E #HKHumanRightsandDemocracyAct #hkprotest #antiELAB
— クリスdin (@dintwyc) November 28, 2019
Hong Kong protesters are seeking the government to grant five demands to end their resistance. This includes full withdrawal of the extradition bill, setting up an independent commission to look into alleged police brutality committed against protesters, retracting the classification of protesters as “rioters,” granting amnesty to thousands of arrested protesters, and allowing dual universal suffrage to increase the voice of the Hong Kong people in choosing their officials.