Senate passes sanctions bill targeting China over Hong Kong law

Greg Nash

The Senate passed legislation on Thursday to slap sanctions on Chinese officials who restrict Hong Kong’s autonomy.

The legislation, spearheaded by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), targets individuals and entities, as well as the banks they do business with, with sanctions if they encroach on Hong Kong’s semi-independence. 

“What the government of China is doing in Hong Kong is unacceptable. They are taking away the rights of the people in Hong Kong. They are snuffing out the freedoms that exist there right now,” Van Hollen said from the Senate floor. “They are moving forward in their process to take away the liberties of the people of Hong Kong. So time is of the essence.” 

The bill comes as a national security law being proposed in China has sparked concerns, both on Capitol Hill and internationally, that Beijing will expand its control over the city and that it will lead to restrictions on civil and political freedoms. 

The senators tried to pass the bill earlier this month but Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) objected. Under the Senate’s rules, any one senator can try to pass a bill by unanimous consent but any one senator can also block it. 

Cramer told Politico that he did it at the request of the White House, even though he was a co-sponsor of the bill, because it had requested “technical” changes.

Toomey noted on Thursday that they had been working with the Treasury Department and had gotten “to the point where we are in agreement with this legislation.” 

The bill would still need to be passed by the House before it could go to President Trump, who has had a fraught relationship with China. Former national security adviser John Bolton claimed in his forthcoming book that Trump demurred from getting too involved on the Hong Kong protests, saying “we have human-rights problems too.” 

In addition to the sanctions legislation, the Senate also passed a resolution by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) condemning the proposed national security law. 

“This is, I think, a moment when we have been able to come together to speak with one voice and to send a clear message to Beijing that its attempts to steamroll and destroy the liberties of the people of Hong Kong will not go unnoticed and will not go unaddressed,” he said. 

Tags Chris Van Hollen Donald Trump John Bolton Josh Hawley Kevin Cramer Pat Toomey

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