House Passes Bills Supporting Hong Kong Protesters

Protesters light their torches, and some wave U.S. flags, during a peaceful rally in central Hong Kong’s business district on Monday. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Washington lawmakers set aside raging debate over impeachment on Tuesday to unanimously pass legislation siding with Hong Kong protesters, as tear gas still fogs the streets five months into democracy demonstrations.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act passed without objection, condemning China for interfering in the semi-autonomous territory, followed by the PROTECT Hong Kong Act, restricting tear gas exports used by police since protests first broke out in June.

With the United States home to two of the world’s top five companies manufacturing riot gear, the legislation passed Tuesday will shut down the export of tear gas as well as water cannons, rubber bullets and other such non-lethal crowd control materials to Hong Kong.

Millions of protesters in Hong Kong originally took to the streets this summer to cry out against local legislation that would have green-lit extraditions to the Chinese mainland. The protests — met by strong push back from government security forces firing off thousands of tear gas canisters at unarmed civilians — have since evolved into wider democracy demonstrations.

The bills, introduced by both Democrat and Republican House members, will now go to the Senate for a vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has already called on the international community to punish China for its crackdown in Hong Kong, saying last month he would push President Donald Trump to take action.

Representative Ted Yoho, R-Fla., urged the Senate to pass the bills unanimously in support of democratic values.

“If we don’t send a strong message, it’ll embolden China,” Yoho said.

More than 1,300 American companies do business in Hong Kong. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took to the floor Tuesday to warn that failure by the United States to speak out due to financial ties would forfeit the moral authority to condemn human rights violations around the world.

“We do not want to lose the soul of our country for commercial interests, whatever those commercial interests may be,” she said.

Pelosi also noted that one demonstration in early months drew 2 million protesters to the streets, a turnout of 25% of Hong Kong’s total population.

China gained control of Hong Kong from Britain after the world power handed over the former colony in 1997, in a policy known as “one country, two systems.”

U.S. lawmakers, however, accused China on Tuesday of abandoning the agreement to take full control of Hong Kong.

Representative Brad Sherman, D-Calif., said the human rights and democracy bill “beefs up reporting” by the State Department on Chinese interference in Hong Kong’s affairs. The bill also slaps sanctions on any parties linked to violations of human rights or autonomy in Hong Kong.

The United Kingdom has already suspended tear gas exports over concerns of human rights abuses and the European Parliament has called on the international community to do the same.

In August, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an investigation into the disturbing crowd control tactics that have continued to escalate, with two teenage protesters recently shot with live ammunition.

The list of demands from protesters stemming from the original push to drop the extradition bill now also includes calls for the government of Hong Kong to launch an investigation into the use of heavy force by police, as well as amnesty for arrested protesters and direct elections of Hong Kong lawmakers.

Yoho said the demands send a strong message to Beijing that continued encroachment on Hong Kong’s liberties will not be tolerated. The people of Hong Kong, House members said repeatedly on Tuesday, stand for freedom.

“This is illustrated by the people of Hong Kong raising and waving the American flag while burning the Chinese party’s flag,” Yoho said.

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