U.S. Senate passes Hong Kong rights Bill

Nowhere to escape:Police detaining protesters as they tried to flee the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus.AFPNICOLAS ASFOURI

Nowhere to escape:Police detaining protesters as they tried to flee the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus.AFPNICOLAS ASFOURI  

It mandates action against Chinese officials who commit rights abuses; Beijing vows countermeasures

The U.S. Senate unanimously adopted legislation on Tuesday supporting “human rights and democracy” in Hong Kong and threatening to revoke its special economic status, angering China which promptly summoned a U.S. diplomat and threatened countermeasures.

The lawmakers also approved a measure that would ban the sale of tear gas, rubber bullets and other equipment that have been used by security forces to suppress protests for nearly six months.

Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu summoned the acting U.S. charge d’affaires, William Klein, to lodge a “strong protest” and demand that the U.S. prevent the Bill from becoming law. U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad was out of the country.

“Otherwise, the Chinese side will take strong measures to resolutely counter it, and the U.S. side must bear all the consequences,” the statement said.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said Mr. Klein “relayed that we are watching the situation in Hong Kong with grave concern” during the Foreign Ministry meeting.

China had also reacted angrily when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a similar measure last month.

The Senate’s Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act would require the U.S. President to annually review the favourable trade status that Washington grants to Hong Kong.

Rights abuses

It also mandates sanctions against Hong Kong and Chinese officials who commit human rights abuses including “extra-judicial rendition”.

The 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”, Republican Senator Marco Rubio said.

Passage of the Bill marks “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 Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, Robert Menendez, added the legislation “makes it clear that the U.S. will stand firmly and unambiguously with the legitimate aspirations of the people of Hong Kong”.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the U.S. purpose was to “support the extremists and violent elements against China that are trying to mess up Hong Kong... and realise their sinister plot to hinder China's development by taking advantage of the Hong Kong issue.”

Months of protest

The pro-democracy movement was ignited in June when millions took to streets in opposition to a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions from Hong Kong to the mainland.

The protests and resulting crackdowns have turned parts of Hong Kong into violent battlegrounds for weeks.

On Tuesday, protesters occupying a university defied warnings to surrender, as skirmishes between police and demonstrators continued.

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