WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Tuesday easily approved a bill to support human rights in Hong Kong following months of often-violent unrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act was passed by voice vote. It now goes to the House, which has already passed similar legislation.
China responded by threatening to take “strong countermeasures” if Congress proceeds with passage of the bill.
The measure mandates sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses and require an annual review of the favorable trade status that Washington grants Hong Kong.
“The passage of this bill is an important step in holding accountable those Chinese and Hong Kong government officials responsible for Hong Kong’s eroding autonomy and human rights violations,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of nearly 50 co-sponsors of the measure.
Mass protests in Hong Kong started in June over a proposed extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. Activists saw the legislation as part of a continuing erosion of rights and freedoms that Hong Kong was promised it could keep when Britain returned its former colony to China in 1997.
China has opposed all criticism of the handling of the Hong Kong protests as unwarranted interference in its domestic affairs.
In a statement Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the aim of the bill was to “bolster anti-China, extremist and violent radicals who attempt to disrupt Hong Kong (and) damage Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability” as part of a plot to contain China’s development.
The Hong Kong government released a statement expressing its own displeasure with such actions from the U.S. government, saying they are “unnecessary and unwarranted” and will “harm the relations and common interests between Hong Kong and the U.S.”