Senator Patrick Toomey told CNBC on Thursday that the US must respond to Beijing’s recent encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy, which is in the form of a new national security law passed by the Chinese parliament.
The Pennsylvania Republican, along with Senator Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Praised the proposed legislation and said the bill was in addition to any measure that resulted from the State Department’s recent moves.
“The idea of this bill is to send Beijing a very clear message that we will not remain inactive while systematically destroying the autonomy that Hong Kong has promised,”
The prospect of China’s national security law, announced last week, has sparked another wave of protests in the former British colony after the widespread demonstrations for democracy last year.
Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, was governed according to the “one country, two systems” principle, which gives the city’s residents some freedoms that those on the mainland do not have. At the 1997 handover, China promised to maintain these freedoms for 50 years.
Critics of the national security law believe that it would further undermine these freedoms.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the US no longer considers Hong Kong to be independent of China, a decision that has far-reaching economic implications.
Pompeo’s decision unfortunately recognizes the “obvious,” Toomey said, arguing that Hong Kong does not have the autonomy “that was the prerequisite for a different relationship between the United States and Hong Kong, for example, compared to any other city in China.”
For example, Toomey said that tariffs imposed on mainland China but not Hong Kong could lose this distinction due to Pompeo’s determination.
According to Toomey, if its bill, the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, were to become law, the State Department would have to list companies and people in China who are “responsible for hitting Hong Kong hard.”
“They will be subject to sanctions themselves, financial sanctions, including freezing their assets, but also secondary sanctions, which will mean restricting the activities of banks that fund these people and these companies,” said Toomey. “I think that’s a pretty big hammer.”
US relations with Beijing are tense over the coronavirus pandemic and other tensions, Toomey admitted, but said Washington needs to respond to developments in Hong Kong.
Toomey, a member of the Senate’s finance and budget committees, believes that China’s new national security law is “much worse” than last year’s extradition proposal that sparked widespread demonstrations.
“This would simply force the entire Chinese criminal justice system or criminal justice system directly onto the people of Hong Kong,” he said. “I think it’s pretty important that we respond to that.”