The U.S. Senate approved legislation called the Hong Kong Autonomy Act on Thursday, June 25, which would allow the government to have tighter control over those who violate China’s commitment to Hong Kong under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.

The bill was introduced by Senator and Democrat of Maryland, Chris Van Hollen. It was passed using unanimous consent, which is used by the senate members to pass a bill that is considered non-controversial.

The Hong Kong Autonomy Act not only describes provisions to punish an individual but also requires sanctions against any foreign financial institution conducting transactions with such institutions. The “significant transactions” under such circumstances as defined in the act have been defined by the U.S. Treasury.

The bill has come as a response to China’s efforts to impose a new national security law over Hong Kong. Experts in the field believe that doing so will ban all protests and opposition activities in Hong Kong. Even though China has not released full details of the legislation, it is expected that it will be passed by June 30.

The Hong Kong Autonomy Act was introduced in late May and has been passed unanimously rather quickly by the U.S. Senate.

“The speed of this legislation was one thing that really caught my attention,” said Kurt Tong, previous U.S. consul general to Hong Kong and Macau. “And then, of course, the secondary sanctions aspect, which has a lot of financial institutions worried about how they would be applied.”

Tong further added that the quick approval of the bill by the U.S. senate indicates the urgency with which the National People’s Congress in China is rushing through the National Security Law, both in terms of procedure and speed.

The eyes are on the House of Representatives to pass its version of the legislation. Then both the versions of the bills will be reconciled and any updated as required will be done before the final bill is sent to the U.S. President Donald Trump to sign and make it a law.

Hong Kong Hong Kong. Photo: Courtesy