US President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed into law the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, sending a message of support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong even as he tries to secure a trade deal with Beijing.
The legislation, approved unanimously by the US Senate and by all but one lawmaker in the House of Representatives last week, requires the State Department to certify, at least annually, that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to justify favorable US trading terms that have helped it maintain its position as a world financial center, Reuters reports.
The law also threatens sanctions for human rights violations.
Congress passed a second bill, which Trump also signed, banning the export to the Hong Kong police of crowd-control munitions, such as teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns.
“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong. 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,” Trump said in a statement.
The US president had been vague earlier about whether he would sign or veto the legislation, while trying to strike a deal with China on trade that he has made a top priority ahead of his 2020 re-election bid.
China has denounced the legislation as gross interference in its affairs and a violation of international law.
After the Senate passed the legislation, Beijing vowed counter-measures to safeguard its sovereignty and security.
The foreign ministry in Beijing had said the US must immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong and China’s other internal affairs, or “the negative consequences will boomerang on itself.”
If Trump had opted to use his veto, it could have been overridden by two-thirds votes in both the Senate and the House – easily attainable as measured by the votes in each chamber, Reuters noted.
The legislation would have automatically become law on Dec. 3 if Trump had opted to do nothing.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio applauded Trump’s decision to sign the bill.
“The U.S. now has new and meaningful tools to deter further influence and interference from Beijing into Hong Kong’s internal affairs,” Rubio said in a statement.
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