September 18, 2019 / 6:40 PM / 2 months ago

U.S. Congress to advance 'Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy' bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. congressional committees are due to start voting next week on legislation supporting human rights in Hong Kong, with measures under consideration including annual reviews of the Chinese territory’s special economic status and the imposition of sanctions on those who undermine its autonomy.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a news conference on Wednesday with House members - Republicans and her fellow Democrats - as well as Joshua Wong, Denise Ho and other Hong Kong democracy activists to back the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019.”

The activists have spent much of this week in Washington making their case for U.S. support, including testifying at a congressional hearing on Tuesday.

“Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate enthusiastically support this legislation,” Pelosi said. “We stand with ... all who are fighting for a peaceful, hopeful future.”

Leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said the committee was due to mark up - debate and vote on - the bill next week. It is expected to pass, which would send it for a vote by the full House.

A spokeswoman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that committee was also working on its version of the legislation, hoping to hold its markup next week.

The bill’s text will not be final until it passes both houses of Congress, and it must be signed by President Donald Trump to become law.

The current version of the House bill calls for annual evaluations of whether Hong Kong still meets the conditions - including remaining autonomous - of the 1992 U.S. law granting it special economic status.

It also would require the Trump administration to identify and sanction anyone responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong, Republican Representative Chris Smith, one of the bill’s lead sponsors, told the news conference.

Trump has sent some mixed signals on the Hong Kong protests. In early August, he caused alarm among those sympathetic to the movement by describing the street demonstrations as riots.

FILE PHOTO: Protesters march to call for the United States Congress to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in Hong Kong, China September 8, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

Trump has since called on China to end the discord in a humanitarian way and said a crackdown could make his efforts to end a damaging trade war “very hard.”

Some industry groups worry that the legislation could threat then delicate trade talks. Backers rejected that concern.

“We cannot let commercial interests drive our policy,” Pelosi said.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Tom Brown

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