International concern seen in US bill on Hong Kong

Bill empowers the US to periodically review its relationship with Hong Kong, particularly on trade
International concern seen in US bill on Hong Kong

Protesters react as police fire tear gas while they attempt to march towards Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Nov. 18. Dozens of protesters escaped a two-day police siege at the campus by shimmying down a rope from a bridge to awaiting motorbikes following a renewed warning by Beijing of a possible intervention to end the crisis. (Photo: AFP)

The United States has expeditiously passed a bill on democracy and rights in Hong Kong, which rights activists say shows the international concern over the territory's future.

The US Senate passed the Hong Kong Bill of Rights and Democracy on Nov. 20 after the procedure on its voting was speeded up last week.

The US accelerated the process after media reported violent clashes between pro-democracy protesters and police on several university campuses.

The bill requires the US to annually review the special treatment it gives to this former British colony in trade and commerce.

The US treats Hong Kong differently from China in trade and diplomacy as the territory remains semi-autonomous, having its own legal and political systems.

The speedy US move shows the international concern over Hong Kong's future as a free territory, said Tam Man-kei, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong.

"The speeding up of the bill is a response from the international community to the past week’s police action in Hong Kong Polytechnic University," Tam said.

The bill empowers the US to impose sanctions and travel restrictions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out arbitrary detention, torture or forced confession of any individual in Hong Kong.

The sanctions can also be imposed for violation of internationally recognized human rights in the territory.

The protests began in June against a move to amend the Hong Kong extradition bill. The move was projected as an example of the Chinese government increasingly clipping the democratic rights of Hong Kong people.

Over the past five months, the mostly weekend protests have turned into a pitched battle between police and young protesters, leaving several injured and at least one person dead.

"The police must stop using excessive force against demonstrators to stop the revenge mentality. The government also must respond to protesters' demands rather than using police to maintain order and to solve political problems," Tam said.

Republican Senator Marco Antonio Rubio, who pushed the bill of rights for Hong Kong, said the world is concerned about Hong Kong. China is trying to turn Hong Kong's "one country, two systems" into "one country, one system."

He said the bill was an essential step for Chinese and Hong Kong officials to take responsibility for the violation of Hong Kong's autonomy and human rights.

A Hong Kong government spokesman said the bill was "neither necessary nor justified but will also damage the relationship and interests of Hong Kong and the United States."

Hong Kong enjoys a unique status among the international community, "and its economic and trade status is equal to that of other members of the World Trade Organization," the spokesman said.

Any unilateral change of the US economic and trade policy toward Hong Kong will harm the bilateral relationship.

The protest in Hong Kong is an internal affair and foreign governments should not interfere in it in any form, he said.

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