A bill that would punish groups, entities or banks for subverting the autonomy of Hong Kong unanimously passed the U.S. Senate on Thursday, in a response to China’s controversial national security law that critics say undermines the city’s partial independence.
The “Hong Kong Autonomy Act” would impose sanctions on people or entities that contribute to Chinese attempts to limit Hong Kong’s semiautonomous status, as well as banks that conduct “significant transactions” with them. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland introduced the bill on May 21.
The act is a response to a law China enacted in late May that would give the country the power to punish resistors in Hong Kong and to let state security agencies operate in the city. The move has been condemned internationally as an undermining of China’s agreement to uphold the “one country, two systems” model, which guarantees Hong Kong political and legal freedoms not found on the mainland.
"Today, the Senate stood up to the Communist regime in Beijing and stood with the people of Hong Kong,” Toomey said. "The mandatory sanctions established in this bill will punish those in China who seek to undermine Hong Kong's autonomy or erode the basic freedoms promised to Hongkongers.”
Van Hollen said: “We urge the government of China to abandon their ongoing efforts to repress freedoms in Hong Kong.”
Under the U.S. bill, sanctions would be placed on supporters of or contributors to the national security law and police crackdowns on Hong Kong protesters.
U.S. legislative efforts may put pressure on British banks HSBC and Standard Chartered, which have expressed approval of the Chinese law even as their own government denounced it. HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, was founded in Hong Kong and still derives a majority of its profit from the city.
The Hong Kong Autonomy Act now goes for a vote in the House of Representatives, where a similar bill was introduced by California Democrat Brad Sherman and Florida Republican Ted Yoho in early June.