US Bills on Hong Kong: What are they about and their implications

Police detain protesters who attempt to leave the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University during clashes with police in Hong Kong, on Nov 18, 2019.
Police detain protesters who attempt to leave the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University during clashes with police in Hong Kong, on Nov 18, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AFP) - United States President Donald Trump on Wednesday (Nov 27) signed two Bills to back pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and threaten China with possible sanctions on human rights violations. Here are what we know of the Bills and the implications.

WHAT ARE THE BILLS ABOUT?

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act puts the special treatment the former British colony enjoys under US law under tighter scrutiny, linked to the extent of Hong Kong's autonomy from Beijing.

It requires the State Department to certify, at least annually, that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to justify favourable US trading terms that have helped it maintain its position as a world financial centre.

The Act also threatens sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials for human rights violations.

It states that the US should allow Hong Kong residents to obtain visas to work or study in the US - even if they have been arrested for being part of "non-violent protests supporting human rights or the rule of law".

A second Bill, called Protect Hong Kong Act, will ban the export of crowd-control munitions, including tear gas, rubber bullets, stun guns and tasers, to the Hong Kong police force.

WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS?

While many see the Acts as symbolic, they have the potential - if implemented - to completely upend relations between the US and Hong Kong.

 
 
 
 

A 1992 US law gives Hong Kong preferential treatment in matters of trade and commerce compared with China. That has meant, for instance, that trade war tariffs don't apply to exports from Hong Kong.

Rescinding Hong Kong's "special status" would effectively mean treating the Asian financial hub no differently than any other Chinese city.

A loss of the status could also jeopardise the over US$30 billion (S$40.98 billion) in trade between Hong Kong and the US.

Meanwhile, China has reacted furiously to the signing of the two Bills, warning it was ready to take unspecified "firm countermeasures".

However, it is unclear how Beijing will respond exactly.

Both the US and China are currently locked in a trade war and have deep differences over Beijing's claims to the South China Sea and Taiwan, human rights issues and accusations of Chinese industrial espionage.

There are worries that the Bills will make it harder for Washington and Beijing to reach a trade deal.