The legislation is aimed at protecting human rights in Hong Kong amid China's crackdown on a pro-democracy protest movement.
The US Senate, in a unanimous vote, passed legislation on Tuesday aimed at protecting human rights in Hong Kong amid China's crackdown on a pro-democracy protest movement that has gripped the vital financial centre for months.
Following the voice vote by senators, the "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act" now goes to the House of Representatives, which earlier approved its own version of the measure. The two chambers will have to work out their differences before any legislation can be sent to President Donald Trump for his consideration.
The Senate then passed a second bill, also unanimously, that would ban the export of certain munitions to Hong Kong police forces. It bans the export of items such as tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns.
There was no immediate response from the White House, which has yet to say whether Trump would sign or veto the Hong Kong Human Rights bill. A US official said recently that no decision had been made.
That official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said if the measure gets to Trump’s desk there would likely be an intense debate between Trump aides worried that it could undermine trade talks with China and those who believe it is the time to take a stand against China on human rights and Hong Kong’s status.
The Chinese embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
At the start of the brief Senate debate, Republican Senator Marco Rubio said, "The people of Hong Kong see what's coming. They see the steady effort to erode the autonomy and their freedoms," as he accused Beijing of "violence and repression."
Senate aides said they expected the legislation eventually would move forward as an amendment to a massive defence bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, expected to pass Congress later this year.
Under the Senate bill, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would have to certify at least once a year that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy to qualify for special US trading consideration that bolsters its status as a world financial centre. It also would provide sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said following the passage of the bill: "We have sent a message to President Xi: Your suppression of freedom, whether in Hong Kong, in northwest China or in anywhere else, will not stand. You cannot be a great leader — and you cannot be a great country — when you oppose freedom, when you are so brutal to the people of Hong Kong, young and old, who are protesting."