Trump Signs Bills That Support Hong Kong Protesters

A riot policeman watches over a group of detained people on a bridge in Hong Kong on Nov. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

(CN) – President Trump signed two bills Wednesday in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and human rights, in spite of suggestions last week that he may veto the legislation.

The bills, nearly unanimously passed by both the House and Senate, call for sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials found carrying out human rights abuses and require an annual review by the State Department of Hong Kong’s favorable trade status. Republican Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie was the only member of Congress to vote against the human rights bill.

Chinese officials said earlier they would take “strong countermeasures” if the bills became law.

Trump signed the bills after the closing of the markets, despite suggesting last week that he might veto them amid an attempt to land a trade deal with China.

“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said in a written statement. “They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all.”

Hong Kong has undergone months of protests as pro-democracy activists have opposed the government’s attempt to rein in some of the city’s semi-autonomous freedoms.

Although President Trump previously expressed concerns over the legislation last week, a veto would have likely been overridden by a bipartisan Congress that united over the issue.

“Look, we have to stand with Hong Kong,” Trump said in an interview. “But I’m also standing with President Xi. He’s a friend of mine. He’s an incredible guy.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle lauded the signings of the bills into law.

“Know this, Chairman Xi: Americans despise tyrants and stand in solidarity with Hong Kong. The whole world has seen both the courage of Hong Kongers and the brutality of your Chinese Communist Party,” Republican Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse said in a statement. “As long as freedom-seekers fill the streets of Hong Kong, the American people will take their side.”

Democratic New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez commended the legislation, saying it “sends a clear and unequivocal message to the people of Hong Kong: We are with you.”

Rep. Chris Smith,  a Republican from New Jersey and sponsor of the House human rights bill, said Xi “should understand that the U.S. is not kidding about human rights.”

“Beating, torturing and jailing of democracy activists is wrong and this historic legislation lets China know that respecting fundamental human rights is paramount,” Smith said in a statement.

The Chinese government censured Trump for signing the bills, saying that it was a “serious intervention” in Chinese affairs.

“It is a grave violation of international law and basic norms governing international relations. It is an outright act of hegemony, which the Chinese government and people firmly oppose,” a government spokesman said in a statement.

The statement added: “This so-called bill will only make the Chinese people, including Hong Kong compatriots, further understand the sinister intentions and hegemonic nature of the United States. It will only make the Chinese people more united,” it said in characteristically trenchant language. “The U.S. plot is doomed to fail.”

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