U.S. House Speaker Pelosi backs bill aimed at protecting Hong Kong rights

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a longtime critic of China’s human rights record, on Wednesday threw her influence behind bipartisan legislation to require the Trump administration to certify Beijing is maintaining its special treatment of Hong Kong.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. lawmakers’ move to protect the “one country, two systems” relationship that mainland China has with Hong Kong, which formerly was under British control, comes amid massive demonstrations in Hong Kong against a proposed extradition law.

“The legislation says we no longer assume that China is operating under one country, two systems,” Pelosi, a Democrat, said in remarks to reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

She noted that under current U.S. law, Hong Kong is treated as an “economic zone” with special privileges not enjoyed by mainland China.

Pelosi said that the legislation would require the Trump administration to document that the “economic zone” arrangement is still in force for the special arrangement to continue.

“If they’re just China, then they don’t get the privileges,” Pelosi said.

In the face of a massive public backlash in Hong Kong to a possible change in extradition law, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has put the measure on hold. But protesters have been demanding that she resign and that the measure be formally withdrawn.

Pelosi called the large demonstrations in Hong Kong “a beautiful sight to behold” adding that Chinese President Xi Jinping has been “really taking China backward in terms of repression.”

She said that under the extradition proposal that had been floated, people arrested in Hong Kong would be tried on the mainland. “They can cook up any charge on any person, including journalists; 5,000 Americans who are there doing business.”

Pelosi did not say when she would try to advance the legislation through the House. A similar measure has been crafted in the Senate, she said.

Reporting by Richard Cowan; editing by Jonathan Oatis