The Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday aimed at supporting protesters in Hong Kong and warning China against a violent suppression of the demonstrations, a stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s near-silence on the issue.
The vote marks a challenge to the government in Beijing just as the U.S. and China, the world’s largest economies, seek to close a preliminary agreement to end their trade war. The Senate measure would require annual reviews of Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law to assess the extent to which China has chipped away the city’s autonomy.
”The United States has treated commerce and trade with Hong Kong differently than it has commercial and trade activity with the mainland of China,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the bill’s lead sponsor, said on the Senate floor. “But what’s happened over the last few years is the steady effort on the part of Chinese authorities to erode that autonomy and those freedoms.”
Hong Kong’s position as a global financial hub has already been shaken by months of protests and police responses that have grown increasingly violent. U.S. lawmakers have voiced strong support for the demonstrators and warned China against responding with violence.
The legislation comes at a difficult time for Trump as his administration is trying to complete the first phase of a long-awaited trade deal with China. Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that it would be difficult for the U.S. to sign a trade agreement with China if the demonstrations in Hong Kong are met with violence.
“The president’s made it clear it’ll be very hard for us to do a deal with China if there’s any violence or if that matter is not treated properly and humanely,” Pence said in an interview with Indianapolis-based radio host Tony Katz.
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Mitch McConnellPhotographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday urged Trump to personally voice support for the protesters, which he hasn’t yet done. Nor has Trump indicated whether he would sign the legislation if it gets to his desk.
The House unanimously passed a similar bill last month, but slight differences mean both chambers still have to pass the same version before sending it to the president.