Politics

Trump signs bills backing Hong Kong protesters into law, in spite of Beijing's objections

Key Points
  • President Trump signs two bills backing Hong Kong protesters, the White House says in a statement.
  • The president says he "signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong."
  • He also says he hopes "Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences."
U.S. President Donald Trump with first lady Melania Trump looking on in the Rose Garden of the White House November 26, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

President Donald Trump has signed two bills supporting the Hong Kong protesters into law on Wednesday, despite Beijing's repeated objections.

"I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong. They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all," Trump said in a statement released by the White House.

Trump signed the bills as he tries to reach a "phase one" trade deal with Beijing, which has repeatedly condemned the legislation as meddling in its domestic affairs. Hours later, China issued statements slamming the bills, saying they highlight the "sinister intentions and hegemonic nature of the United States," according to a CNBC translation.

On Thursday morning local time, the Hong Kong government "expressed strong opposition" to the bills becoming law and said it "extremely regrets the U.S. repeatedly ignoring Hong Kong's concern regarding the two bills," according to a CNBC translation.

"These two bills are an obvious intervention of Hong Kong's internal affairs, they are unnecessary and without grounds, they will also harm the relationship and interests between Hong Kong and the U.S.," the government said in a statement.

A government spokesman also said the bills will send the "wrong message" to protesters, "providing no help to ease Hong Kong's situation."

Congress sent the bills to the president's desk last week, after both chambers passed the legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support.

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The first bill would require the State Department to certify once a year that Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous to retain its special U.S. trading consideration — a status that helps its economy. Under that designation, the city is not subject to the tariffs that have been levied on China. The bill also sets up the potential for sanctions on people responsible for human rights abuse in Hong Kong.

The second measure would bar the sale of munitions such as tear gas and rubber bullets to Hong Kong police.

Hong Kong, a former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, has been engulfed in months of anti-government protests. Initially sparked by a bill that would have enabled extradition to mainland China, the protests have morphed into broader anti-government demonstrations, including a wider range of demands such as greater democracy and universal suffrage.

As the protests more frequently lapsed into violence, U.S. lawmakers increasingly criticized China's response to the protests.

Trump's Wednesday statement echoes his earlier comments that China should handle the situation itself. Though he has also warned that harsh treatment of the people in Hong Kong could derail trade negotiations.

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Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the sponsors of the Hong Kong rights bill, said he applauds Trump "for signing this critical legislation into law."

"The U.S. now has new and meaningful tools to deter further influence and interference from Beijing into Hong Kong's internal affairs. Following last weekend's historic elections in Hong Kong that included record turnout, this new law could not be more timely in showing strong U.S. support for Hong Kongers' long-cherished freedoms," Rubio said in a statement.

Over the weekend, Hong Kong democrats swept district council elections as 2.94 million cast their ballots, a record turnout of about 71.2%. While those seats largely focus on local issues like bus routes, some district councilors will also join the Election Committee which nominates and votes on candidates for the city's leader.

Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said the legislation is an "important step forward in holding the Chinese Communist Party accountable for its erosion of Hong Kong's autonomy and its repression of fundamental human rights."

— CNBC's Jacob Pramuk and Vivian Kam contributed to this report.