President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a bipartisan bill that lends support to pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong who have been rallying against China’s government for months, ignoring complaints by Beijing officials that it interferes with a domestic matter.
The legislation would impose sanctions on Chinese officials charged with human rights violations and requires the U.S. to reassess the special trade agreement it has with Hong Kong every year to ensure the city retains a degree of autonomy.
Trump signed the measure, which passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate, despite warnings from Chinese President Xi Jinping that the country would retaliate against the U.S. if the bill became law. It comes against the backdrop on the two countries continuing to haggle over ending a trade war.
Trump also signed a bill that prohibits exporting to Hong Kong police items that can be used for crowd control, such as teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.
“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said in a statement. “They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all.”
Senate Republicans had made clear their strong support for Hong Kong protesters and the legislation in speeches on the chamber’s floor last week. As the legislation headed toward his desk, Trump had avoided expressing whether he stood behind the measures. During an interview with Fox News, he said he supported protesters but also referred to President Xi as “a friend of mine.”
“I stand with Hong Kong. I stand with freedom. I stand with all of the things we want to do.” Trump told “Fox & Friends. “But we’re also in the process of making the largest trade deal in history.”
“I applaud President Trump for signing this critical legislation into law,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who sponsored the main bill, said in a statement.
“The U.S. now has new and meaningful tools to deter further influence and interference from Beijing into Hong Kong’s internal affairs,” Rubio said.
Hong Kong protesters celebrated a big win for democracy over the weekend after the city’s residents voted largely in favor of pro-democracy candidates in district council elections.
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