The speaker called for bipartisan action to penalize Beijing for violating Hong Kong’s legal autonomy, but didn’t commit to take up a sanctions bill.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday unanimously passed a sanctions bill to penalize China for imposing a strict new security law in Hong Kong that Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “signals the death” of the territory’s autonomous legal status.
What happened: The House passed the bill by unanimous consent on Wednesday after Pelosi slammed the new Hong Kong security law at a hearing held by the Foreign Services Committee that morning.
“Beijing’s so-called national security law … signals the death of the one country, two systems principle,” she said.
The bill now goes back to the Senate, which has already passed a nearly identical measure to penalize individuals, banks and other entities that enable China’s security law. Senate passage was secured after key lawmakers reached an agreement with the White House to support the bill in exchange for technical changes.
Context: The White House has also taken some action, like halting shipments of defense products and related technologies to Hong Kong and restricting the visas of certain former and current Chinese Communist Party officials. It also is considering other moves to end preferential trade treatment for Hong Kong over concerns its government is coming more under the control of Beijing. But the administration has balked at more severe measures that could spook financial markets and threaten the president’s reelection, like pulling out of the recently signed U.S. trade deal with China or imposing more tariffs on Chinese goods.
Background: China in recent months has moved to weaken the separate Hong Kong legal system established by the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, first by proposing an extradition bill last year that would allow Hong Kong residents to be transported to the mainland for prosecution. Though that bill was withdrawn, it sparked a massive, ongoing protest movement on the island.
Now, experts say China’s new national security law will reach far beyond the extradition proposal, setting up parallel police and legal systems for the city that are loyal to Beijing and not accountable to local authorities. The Chinese government will also be able to take “complete jurisdiction” of legal cases and remove them from the Hong Kong legal system at the request of Communist Party officials, said Carole Petersen, professor of law at University of Hawaii.
“At that point Hong Kong’s legal system simply does not apply,” she told the Foreign Affairs Committee this morning. “The mainland Chinese criminal procedure will take over and the person will be prosecuted and tried under mainland law, presumably in the mainland.”