China Threatens ‘Strong’ Retaliation After US House Passes Hong Kong Human Rights Bill

China threatened to retaliate if US lawmakers move any further ahead with legislation aimed at reaffirming support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

The House on Tuesday passed a bill that will require annual reviews of the city’s autonomy to determine if it warrants the special status it’s accorded under US law.

Demonstrators in the city have literally begged US lawmakers to act. “We are here to urge the US government to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act”, one twentysomething told the South China Morning post last month, during a weekend march that found protesters waving the American flag. “We are not selling out Hong Kong but defending the Basic Law, which promises us democracy and human rights”.

The situation in the city is deteriorating by the week. A controversial ban on protesters wearing masks backfired in spectacular fashion this month, sparking a fresh escalation in the violence that’s plagued the city since June. Hong Kong almost surely fell into a recession in the third quarter. Carrie Lam will present her annual policy address on Wednesday.

In addition to requiring the US government to evaluate political autonomy at regular intervals, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act which the protesters have championed could also green-light sanctions against officials (either in the city or on the Mainland) found to be involved in abductions or the curtailment of basic human rights.

“Democrats and Republicans in the House and in the Senate stand united with the people of Hong Kong”, Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday. “If America does not speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interest, then we lose all moral authority to speak out for human rights anyplace in the world”.

That appeared to be a jab at Donald Trump. Reports suggest that during a June call with Xi Jinping, Trump promised to stay silent on Hong Kong in the interest of keeping the door open to a trade deal.

“Today the House is proud to pass the bicameral, bipartisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act to reaffirm America’s commitment to democracy”, Pelosi added.

The Senate will likely pass a similar version of the legislation. If there are changes, the House will have to take it up again after the Senate votes.

In addition, the House passed a bill banning the export of nonlethal crowd control equipment (e.g., rubber bullets and tear gas) to Hong Kong police until Lam allows a truly independent investigation into local authorities’ actions during the protests.

A final slap in the face was the adoption of a resolution praising the Canadians for moving ahead with the extradition of Meng Wanzhou and calling for Beijing to release imprisoned Canadian nationals.

Obviously, Beijing is not amused with any of this. “China will take strong measures to retaliate if the US passes the Hong Kong bill”, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Earlier, Hong Kong’s government expressed some “regret” over the US bill. “One country, two systems is the best arrangement for maintaining Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability, and the government will continue to implement it in accordance with the Basic Law”, a statement reads. It also says foreign legislatures shouldn’t be meddling in the city’s affairs.

The real concern for markets is the declaration from the Mainland. US equity futures dipped noticeably when the “retaliation” headlines crossed.

“China strongly urges certain people in the US Congress to grasp the situation, immediately stop advancing the bill regarding Hong Kong and interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs to avoid further damaging China-US relations”, Geng Shuang, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Although Trump has remained largely silent on the situation in Hong Kong (the president generally parrots some version of a nebulous talking point about hoping the situation is resolved peacefully), the administration did blacklist Hikvision and more than two-dozen Chinese public security bureaus and companies last week, citing Beijing’s treatment of the Uighurs.

The next day, Trump imposed a travel ban, citing the same human rights concerns.

The House bill thus marks the third time in a week that Beijing has been effectively accused of  human rights abuses.

That, folks, doesn’t bode particularly well for Sino-US relations at a time when markets are clinging desperately to the idea that Trump’s “Phase One” trade deal might actually mark a turning point.


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