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US passes bill to check China's security law in Hong Kong

The bill empowers US president to seize assets of officials undermining Hong Kong's semi-autonomous status
US passes bill to check China's security law in Hong Kong

Pro-China activists hold placards and flags outside the US consulate in Hong Kong on June 26, a day after the US Senate unanimously approved a bill that would lay out sanctions on Chinese officials who undermine Hong Kong's autonomy as Beijing pushes forward with a controversial security law. (Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP)

Published: June 26, 2020 08:08 AM GMT

The US Senate has unanimously approved a bill to punish Chinese officials who undermine Hong Kong's semi-autonomous status by using new legislation.

The bill, passed on June 25, seeks sanctions against Hong Kong police and the banks that do business with them if they exploit a new security law pushed forward by the Chinese Communist Party to curb autonomy in the former British colony.

Massive pro-democracy protests have been going on in Hong Kong for the past 12 months. The security law that China approved last month reportedly aims to prosecute pro-democracy activists under charges of subversion and terrorism in Asia's financial hub.

The Hong Kong Autonomy Act requires the State Department to report on Chinese officials who seek to undermine the "one country, two systems" framework under which China agreed to govern Hong Kong when it took over the territory from Britain in 1997.

The bill empowers the US president to seize assets of those officials undermining the framework and to deny them entry to the US.

"They are moving forward in their process to take away the liberties of the people of Hong Kong. So time is of the essence," said Senator Chris Van Hollen while talking about the bipartisan bill.

The Democrat leader said it is "important to actually do something that shows that the government of China will pay a price if it continues down this path to extinguish those freedoms of the people in Hong Kong."

At the House of Representatives, the bill will have a smooth sail as the Democrat-led house has repeatedly raised concerns over human rights in mainland China and its autonomous regions.

Republican Senator Pat Toomey, who co-sponsored the bill, said that the greatest fear of the Chinese communist leadership is that the "people on the mainland will observe" the freedom in Hong Kong and may decide they want it themselves. "And that is a risk that the Chinese communist leadership cannot tolerate," he added.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump signed legislation that calls for punishing Chinese officials for the oppression of the Uyghurs and other minority groups.

But the Chinese government says the national security law is needed to end the pro-democracy unrest in Hong Kong and restore stability.

Under the security bill, a national security agency in Hong Kong will oversee the law, which would override any existing legislation in the territory, state news agency Xinhua said last week in a report detailing the draft bill.

The news agency hinted at the creation of a separate security council under the Hong Kong chief executive with the power to appoint judges to hear security-related cases.

China's new security legislation has prompted President Trump to kickstart "a process to eliminate special economic treatment that has allowed Hong Kong to remain a global financial center," Reuters reported on June 25.

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