Sunday, August 9, 2020

US passes sanctions over Hong Kong law

World

Riot police officers walk as anti-national security law protesters march during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from Britain, in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu REFILE - CORRECTING YEAR

Washington: US legislators have approved new Hong Kong-related sanctions, after Beijing imposed a security law that has been widely condemned across the world.

The US measure, which penalises banks which do business with Chinese officials, was passed unanimously by both the House and the Senate.

It has been sent to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

Critics say China’s law ends freedoms guaranteed for 50 years after British rule ended in Hong Kong in 1997.

US Vice President Mike Pence said the new law was a betrayal of the Sino-British agreement on Hong Kong’s future after it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

“The national security law that China passed and now is imposing on Hong Kong is a betrayal of the international agreement that they signed, and ultimately it’s unacceptable to freedom-loving people around the world,” he said.

“The law is a brutal, sweeping crackdown against the people of Hong Kong, intended to destroy the freedoms they were promised,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the passing of the law was a “clear and serious breach” of the 1985 Sino-British joint declaration.

Under this declaration, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, with certain freedoms guaranteed for at least 50 years under the “one country, two systems” agreement.

The UK has offered residency, and then citizenship, to up to three million Hong Kongers.

But yesterday China threatened “corresponding measures” to block the citizenship plan.

“If the British side makes unilateral changes to the relevant practice, it will breach its own position and pledges, as well as international law and basic norms,” said the Chinese Embassy in the UK.

Australia is also “actively considering” offering safe haven to Hong Kong residents – with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying there were proposals that will “soon be considered by cabinet”.

Meanwhile, a 24-year-old man from Hong Kong – suspected of stabbing a police officer during Wednesday’s protests – has been arrested on a plane while trying to flee to London.

The suspect, known only as Mr Wong, was detained on the plane moments before it set off.

China said the security law was necessary to stop the type of protests seen in Hong Kong during much of 2019.

And despite widespread international condemnation from leading powers, more than 50 countries, led by Cuba, supported China at the UN this week.

Banks

The Hong Kong Autonomy Act imposes sanctions on banks that do business with Chinese officials who are involved in cracking down on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Ms Pelosi said the law was an “urgently needed response to (China’s passing) of its so-called ‘national security’ law... which is purpose built to dismantle democratic freedoms in Hong Kong”.

Before the bill was signed, the US had already begun eliminating Hong Kong’s special status – halting defence exports and restricting the territory’s access to high-technology products.

Last year, the US also signed into law the Human Rights and Democracy Act, supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.