The US Senate may pass a bill that would punish those deemed responsible for suppressing freedoms in Hong Kong as early as Monday, according to a senator who sponsored it.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act – which has received rare bipartisan support – was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives last month, but it has yet to be passed by the Senate. The bill was placed low on the agenda to be voted on by Congress’s upper chamber.
On Thursday, US senators Marco Rubio, who proposed the bill, and Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, initiated a process to speed up passing of the bill in the Senate.
The measure, known as a hotline, allows acts to bypass normal procedures if there is a unanimous consensus. The amended Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act was passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September.
“Today we set in motion an expedited process in the Senate to pass the Hong Kong democracy act. If no Senator objects it could pass as early as next Monday,” Rubio wrote on Twitter.
The process was approved by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. “I was encouraged by a productive conversation with Marco Rubio yesterday on legislation to further help the people of Hong Kong. The Senate needs to stand with Hong Kong and I hope we can take action soon,” he wrote in a tweet.
The bill, if passed and signed by the US president, would place punitive measures – such as denying entry to the US and freezing US assets – on those who infringe upon “basic freedoms” in the city.
Large-scale protests in Hong Kong, initially over a now-withdrawn extradition agreement proposal with mainland China, have entered their 24th week. The demonstrations have morphed into wider calls for democratic reform and accountability for alleged police brutality.
“The world needs to see that the United States will stand up and tell the Chinese Communist Party that what they are doing to the people of Hong Kong is wrong,” Risch said in a statement.
“After more than two decades of broken promises, it is time to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for its erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy. The US stands with the people of Hong Kong, and I look forward to continuing to work with Senate leadership and my colleagues across the aisle to move this bill swiftly.”
The version of the bill in the Senate was different from that in the House of Representatives. As such, if the legislation were to pass in the upper chamber, it would need to be voted on again by the House. It would then be sent to the White House for approval.
The bill was built on the basis of the 1992 United States-Hong Kong Policy Act, authored by McConnell, which gives Hong Kong a special trade status so long as it remains “sufficiently autonomous.”
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