U.S. Senate passes bill targeting banks over Hong Kong security law

July 6, 2020.

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation Thursday to impose sanctions on banks that do business with Chinese officials implementing Beijing’s new security law, which is viewed by many Western lawmakers as a violation of Hong Kong’s promised autonomy. 

The bill was approved unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday and now heads to President Donald Trump for his signature, as protests rage through Hong Kong against the wide-reaching security law, which was passed Tuesday. The law strengthens Beijing’s grip over the former British colony by authorizing extradition to mainland China for trial and punishing those accused of secession, subversion and collusion with foreign powers with up to life in prison. 

The U.S. measure resembles a similar bill passed last month, sponsored by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), but it was slightly altered to fix a procedural error and to speed it through both chambers. Van Hollen said the unusually “fast turnaround” for the bill was due to the aggressive steps China has taken in recent days.

“The government of China is already flagrantly using their new authorities to punish and imprison those who have stood up against the recent implementation of their sweeping national security law,” Van Hollen said. “Our legislation mandates severe consequences on those who participate in this unconscionable repression.”

The bill calls for sanctions on Chinese officials who help violate Hong Kong’s autonomy and on financial institutions that work with those individuals. Examples cited by Van Hollen and Toomey include a police unit “cracking down” on protesters or Chinese Communist Party officials responsible for imposing the new law on Hong Kong. 

The city returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” agreement that granted Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy. U.S. and U.K. offiicials have decried the security law as flouting the agreement and have criticized and for publicly backing the policy. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian warned the U.S. against signing the bill into law. 

“We urge the U.S. side to grasp the situation, abide by international law and basic norms of international relations, stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs through any means, stop pushing the negative bill or even signing it into law or implementing it,” he said in a press conference Thursday. “Otherwise China will react strongly and the U.S. shall bear all consequences.”