US Congress wants tougher action against Beijing over Hong Kong crackdown
Pressure is growing on President Trump to take stronger action against China after Congress approved sanctions targeting individuals involved in the crackdown on Hong Kong and banks that do business with them.
The Senate was preparing last night to reaffirm its unanimous approval for an earlier version of the bill after the House passed the legislation without a dissenting vote, overriding the possibility of a presidential veto.
The unanimous votes reflect the depth of feeling in Congress about China’s move to erase Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms with a draconian security law.
Congress passed a bill last week imposing sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights abuses against the Uighur population in Xinjiang with only one dissenting vote.
Mr Trump signed that legislation, which was also veto-proof, but added a statement arguing that because the sanctions limited his constitutional authority he would regard them as only advisory. He also forwent the usual signing ceremony.
While waging a trade war, Mr Trump has been reluctant to take a firm line with Beijing over human rights, a fact that may come back to haunt him in his election campaign when he boasts of his tough line against China.
Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, called its vote “an urgently needed response to the cowardly Chinese government’s passage of its so-called national security law, which threatens the end of the ‘one country, two systems’.” “All freedom-loving people must condemn this horrific law,” she said.
Congress is debating whether to introduce legislation offering special refugee status to Hongkongers after Britain’s offer to admit up to three million with British National (Overseas) status, and their dependants, on five-year visas with a route to citizenship. China reacted angrily, saying it reserved “the right to take corresponding measures” if Britian pressed ahead with the scheme. The Chinese embassy in London accused the government of breaching “international law and basic norms governing international relations”.
Australia is also drawing up plans to offer a safe haven to Hong Kong citizens, at the risk of further fracturing its rocky relationship with China. Britain has previously asked Australia and other partners to consider “burden-sharing” in the event of an exodus from Hong Kong and has acknowledged that many Hong Kong exiles may prefer to stay in the region.
There is a precedent for such action: after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Australia allowed tens of thousands of Chinese students to remain in the country and later granted 42,000 permanent visas to live and work there.
Taiwan, home to a 5,000-strong community, has opened an office to facilitate the settlement of fleeing Hongkongers. Beijing has previously tried to lure the island to reunite with China under a “one country, two systems” arrangement similar to Hong Kong’s. Taiwan now fears a more hostile takeover.
Canada, Britain and Taiwan also issued updated travel advice for Hong Kong, warning of the increased risk of detention and deportation under the new law, which claims global jurisdiction over acts of dissent against Beijing.
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said that he wanted to build on a UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning China over Hong Kong and Xinjiang by forging an international alliance to confront it over its abuses. Chinese officials are likely to face sanctions under the delayed Magnitsky legislation due to be brought before the British parliament this month.
Nathan Law, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent young democracy activists, announced last night that he had fled overseas in response to Beijing’s new security law, which threatens up to life imprisonment for pro-democracy and pro-independence dissent.
“I have already left Hong Kong and continue the advocacy work on the international level,” Mr Law said, adding it was not safe for him to reveal where he had gone.
Mr Law was one of the leaders of the now dissolved pro-democracy party Demosisto with Joshua Wong. In a letter to The Timespublished today, Mr Wong warned that under the new law, pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong would soon be silenced.
“Beijing tries to silence dissidents with fear, but fear will not kill our spirit of resistance and determination for democracy,” he wrote. “Although our voices may soon no longer be heard, we hope the world will speak louder and defend democracy with more forceful efforts.”
In his letter Mr Wong also reveals the draconian application of the law, which purports to punish sedition, secession, terrorism and foreign manipulation, to silence peaceful protest.
“Although Beijing promised no ‘speech crime’, protesters who put ‘Free HK’ or ‘Conscience’ stickers on their phones were arrested for ‘inciting subversion’ this week, while a man chanting ‘Long live Liverpool’ was accused of ‘inciting Hong Kong independence’,” he wrote.
The Hong Kong authorities released a statement confirming that a popular protest slogan used over the past year, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”, was now illegal because it “contains the indications of Hong Kong independence, or subverting the state”.