A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced new legislation that proposes sanctioning any Chinese companies and officials who enforce Beijing’s new national security laws in Hong Kong. Banks that do business with any of the targeted entities would also be subject to penalties.
The bill is the latest in a series of tit-for-tat escalations between the world’s two largest economies. The bill’s primary architects are Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who said they’ve been working on the legislation for some time. However, the senators mentioned they would press the Senate to review the bill on an accelerated schedule after China announced its intent to impose new national security restrictions on Hong Kong on Thursday.
China plans to pass new, tougher national security laws for Hong Kong that would severely undermine the region’s autonomy from the Chinese regime. The push for expanded security laws comes after months of pro-democracy protests in the territory. Beijing hasn’t released any specifics just yet. However, the new regulations will undoubtedly deal a significant blow to Hong Kong’s tradition of western-style democracy. The new laws are rumored to include a plan to establish Chinese intelligence services in the territory.
The Chinese government’s announcement didn’t sit well with the senators who sponsored the bill. Van Hollen called China’s plan an “illegal crackdown” and a “gross violation” of China’s agreement to preserve Hong Kong’s autonomy after the region transitioned to Chinese rule. Toomey also called China’s decisions to ratchet up its oversight of the territory, “very, very deeply disturbing.”
As of now, President Trump hasn’t commented on the issue because the Chinese haven’t revealed any specifics relating to the initiative. However, the president promised to “address that issue very strongly” if Beijing proceeds with the crackdown. The State Department also chimed in with a statement to the Chinese government. In it, the State Department warned that China’s actions in Hong Kong could provoke a U.S. response.
Anti-China fervor has been building up in the American legislature for weeks. Also, Beijing’s plan to tighten its grip on Hong Kong has only fanned the flames. Earlier in the week, the Senate passed a bill that would compel U.S. securities exchanges to delist Chinese companies that don’t comply with American audits. That bill was co-written by Mr. Van Hollen, who also was the Democratic sponsor of this bill.
Nearly every issue comes down to partisan lines these days. However, the pushback against aggressive Chinese expansion has garnered rare bipartisan support. The Senate has put forward two separate bills in the past week proposing sanctions for Chinese entities, and both pieces of legislation have bipartisan support.
The Hong Kong bill would impel the U.S. to take tough action against any entity that undermines Hong Kong’s constitution. This constitution is what gives the region its limited autonomy. The bill’s language is noticeably broad, so the U.S. has room to target a wide variety of actions. If passed, the U.S. could sanction Chinese Communist Party officials responsible for the proposed Hong Kong crackdown. Those sanctions could include penalties for banks and financial institutions that conduct business with the offending entities.