WASHINGTON • Momentum is building for quick action in the US Congress to pressure China against cracking down on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong by threatening the city's special trading status with the US.
Legislation moving through the House and Senate would require annual assessments of whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous from Beijing to justify its unique treatment under US law.
It would also require the US President to report to Congress and impose sanctions on individuals responsible for "abducting and torturing" human rights activists.
The measure has bipartisan support in both chambers.
Americans are "united in our strong support for Hong Kong", Republican Representative Michael McCaul said at a news conference on Wednesday that included Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic lawmakers and Hong Kong democracy advocates.
"This is a battle between democracy and dictatorship," he said.
The action comes a day after a bicameral panel of lawmakers heard from Hong Kong pro-democracy activists visiting Washington to lobby for the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019.
"It is my belief that it is long overdue for the United States and the free world to respond," Mr Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican sponsoring the legislation in the Senate, said during the Tuesday hearing.
The Trump administration has not said whether it would support the legislation, which comes at a time when it is engaged in negotiations to de-escalate the trade war with China.
Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jim Risch said his panel will move swiftly on the Bill and that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would support a vote on the legislation.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong's government expressed deep regret on Wednesday over remarks made by its citizens at the hearing in Washington, saying that "foreign legislatures should not interfere in any form" in the city's internal affairs.
The government "absolutely respects the public's freedoms and rights of assembly, procession and expression", it said, adding: "The police will continue to fully facilitate the conduct of peaceful and rational public events by members of the public."
China's Foreign Ministry also pushed back on Wednesday.
"We urge the US and other sides to stop interfering in China's affairs, and we would like to warn certain people that any attempts to disrupt Hong Kong by soliciting foreign support will not succeed," ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing at a regular news briefing.