President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a bill demonstrating strong bipartisan support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, despite objections raised by Beijing.
"I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong," Trump said in a statement. "They are being enacted in the hope that leaders and representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all."
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, S. 1838 (116), would require the secretary of State to certify at least once a year whether Hong Kong continues to have enough control over its own affairs to warrant maintaining its special trade status under U.S. law.
It would also empower the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Hong Kong or Chinese officials who take actions that violate human rights.
Congress passed the legislation earlier this month by a unanimous vote in the Senate and a 417-1 vote in the House. That after six months of increasingly violent protests in Hong Kong that are driven by concerns that the former British colony’s democratic traditions are increasingly being eroded by Beijing.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle brushed off warnings that making the bill law would damage relations and hamper efforts to reach a trade truce. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said the proposed legislation was U.S. interference in China’s internal affairs and that it had shaken trust between the two nations.
Trump cast some uncertainty over his position when he refused to commit to signing it during an interview on "Fox and Friends." He cited concerns at the time about jeopardizing trade talks with Beijing.
"I stand with Hong Kong. I stand with freedom. I stand with all the things we want to do, but we’re also in the process of making the largest trade deal in history," Trump said at the time.
Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control on July 1, 1997, under a treaty negotiated by China and the United Kingdom that guaranteed the city “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defense affairs.”
“Today, it is beyond question that China has utterly broken that promise,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during congressional debate. “America has been watching for years as the people of Hong Kong have been increasingly denied their full autonomy and faced a cruel crackdown on their freedoms and an escalation of violence.”
Trump also signed a second bill that would ban the export of certain crowd-control munitions to Hong Kong police forces, including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns.