WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday (Nov 26) stopped just short of endorsing legislation that would punish violent crackdowns against pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, despite concerns that the plan could imperil trade with both the Hong Kong government and China.
In wide-ranging remarks at the State Department, Mr Pompeo took care to note that the decision on the Bill would be made by President Donald Trump and would come "before too long".
But he said the Trump administration "has been pretty clear about our expectations about how Beijing will treat people throughout their country".
"We have human rights standards that we apply all across the world, and Hong Kong is no different," Mr Pompeo told reporters.
With veto-proof majorities, both the House and the Senate have approved legislation that would compel the United States to support pro-democracy activists who are demanding true semi-autonomy in Hong Kong.
The Bill would impose economic sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses in the territory, which has been roiled by increasingly violent protests since June.
Additionally, the legislation would require the State Department to review annually the special autonomous status it grants Hong Kong in trade considerations.
That status is separate from the relationship with China, and a revocation of the status would mean less favourable trade conditions between the United States and Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong government has called the legislation "unnecessary and unwarranted" and warned that it would harm relations between the United States and Hong Kong.
China's government has responded with fury to the measure and demanded that it not become law.
Mr Trump told President Xi Jinping of China in June that he would not publicly back the protesters as long as trade talks between Beijing and Washington were progressing.
Mr Trump is facing a Dec 15 deadline to decide whether to renew major tariffs on Chinese goods.
On Tuesday, Mr Pompeo appeared to goad Beijing, suggesting that the degree of independence Hong Kong maintains as part of its "one country, two systems" agreement with China was weakening.
"Our support for the Chinese Communist Party's continued commitment to the promises that they made remains unwavering," Mr Pompeo said. "And I think you saw that from the people of Hong Kong this past week. That's what they're asking for, too."
Pro-democracy candidates overwhelmingly won local elections in Hong Kong this weekend, shocking Beijing and its allies in Hong Kong's government.
Smarting from the loss, Chinese officials have accused the United States of interfering in the election.
Mr Pompeo carefully sidestepped predicting how he might rule on whether Hong Kong maintains enough autonomy from China to retain its favourable trading status.
"I don't want to prejudge that," he said. "I want to make sure that the process here can be run in a fair, neutral way and no one thinks that the secretary of state got out in front of the analysis."
But he said the final judgment could be made "pretty quickly".
He also excoriated China's detention camps that hold an estimated one million Muslims and other minority groups in the country's Xinjiang region as evidence of Beijing's "draconian policies that have terrorised its own citizens".
His comments to reporters also touched on human rights concerns in Iran and Egypt, and he encouraged Iraq to reject Teheran's influence while also criticising a Cuban company for evading American sanctions on Venezuelan oil imports.
In his news conference, Mr Pompeo also identified an American who was killed in an attack on a UN convoy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday as Mr Anil Raj of California.
"Attacks targeting UN personnel working to help the Afghan people are unconscionable, and we condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms," Mr Pompeo said.