Rubio
© Reuters
Senators: Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) • Protester in Hong Kong
The US Senate has approved a Hong Kong "human rights" bill by unified vote which would empower the State Department to grade the territory's "autonomy" and levy sanctions on foreign officials if Washington deems it insufficient.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act passed through the Senate on Tuesday after a unanimous voice vote, following a similar unchallenged approval of a companion bill in the House in October. Both chambers of Congress are now set to reconcile the two different versions of the law before it goes to President Donald Trump's desk for a final sign-off, however the full support of both houses makes a veto unlikely.

While the law has been hailed by Hong Kong's protest movement, with activists flying to Washington in September to lobby Congress to vote in its favor, Beijing eviscerated the bill, calling it a "serious violation of international law." In a statement on Tuesday the Chinese Foreign Ministry reiterated its staunch opposition to the bill, arguing that its aim is not to underpin democracy, but deter China by fanning extremist sentiment inside the country.
"The aim is to bolster anti-China, extremist and violent radicals who attempt to disrupt Hong Kong, damage Hong Kong's prosperity and stability, so that they can contain China by making a fuss out of the Hong Kong issue, which is exactly the malicious intention of certain people."
The ministry said the bill seeks to misrepresent violent actions as a pursuit of human rights and democracy, and is driven by a "hidden political agenda."

Sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators including Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), the bill, if passed, would require the Secretary of State to issue an annual "certification" affirming that Hong Kong enjoys the proper amount of autonomy from mainland China in a number of areas, though exactly how Washington will quantify such a thing remains a mystery. President Trump would also be asked to submit a report to Congress under the law outlining "each foreign person" he determines to be "responsible for... gross violations of internationally recognized human rights in Hong Kong." The individuals would then be considered for sanctions.

A major backer of the bill, Senator Menendez celebrated its approval in a somewhat messianic tweet, calling it a "shot in the arm for the millions who have been patiently waiting for the US to once again serve as a beacon of light & solidarity in their push to defend their basic rights & autonomy."

On the heels of the vote on the human rights law, the Senate passed a second bill on Tuesday, also unanimously, seeking to ban the export of certain riot control munitions to Hong Kong's police force, including tear gas, pepper spray, stun guns, and rubber bullets.

Hong Kong has been gripped by chaotic protests since March, initially over a now-withdrawn extradition bill which critics said would give too much power to the mainland. The demonstrations have been marked by escalating violence, culminating this weekend in a massive police standoff at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where hundreds of protesters were arrested after barricading themselves inside.