House Passes Uighur Bill in Rebuke to China, Sends It to Trump

The U.S. House voted Wednesday to authorize sanctions against Chinese officials for human rights abuses against Muslim minorities, as Congress and the White House ratchet up pressure on the government in Beijing amid rising tensions between the world’s two biggest economies.

The 413-1 vote comes on the same day the Trump administration said that Hong Kong is no longer politically autonomous from China, a move that could have far-reaching consequences on the former British colony’s special trading status with the U.S.

The vote was the first conducted under a new House rule allowing members to cast proxy votes for other lawmakers who stayed home amid the coronavirus pandemic. The rule was passed by Democrats, who hold the majority, and opposed by Republicans.

The legislation, which already passed the Senate, now goes to President Donald Trump, who hasn’t said whether he would sign it into law.

“We’re taking a look at it very strongly,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

The measure received broad bipartisan support in Congress amid rising criticism of China over trade, its handling of the initial coronavirus outbreak and its attempts to put down anti-government protests in Hong Kong. China has threatened retaliation over efforts in the U.S. to exert pressure over human rights issues, and the House vote comes as relations between the world’s two biggest economies are at a low point.

The single vote in opposition was cast by Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie.

The legislation, S. 3744, condemns the internment of more than 1 million Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region of China. It also calls for closing the camps where they are being held and would require Trump to impose sanctions on and revoke the visas of any officials found to be responsible for the oppression of the Uighurs.

“We are sending a message to the persecuted that they are not forgotten,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor before the vote. “We’re saying to the president of China, ‘You may tell these people that they are forgotten, but they aren’t.’”

In a separate action, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo certified that Hong Kong is no longer politically autonomous from China, an action taken under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act that Trump signed last year.

The administration is considering possible penalties against Chinese officials, businesses and financial institutions if the authorities crack down on dissent in Hong Kong. Police officers arrested 300 people in Hong Kong overnight as protesters took to the streets to speak out against the law.

The last few weeks have seen a flurry of activity in Congress related to China. Last week, the Senate passed by unanimous consent a bill introduced by John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, and Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, that would delist from U.S. stock exchanges Chinese companies that refuse to comply with U.S. accounting disclosure regulations.

Van Hollen and Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, have introduced legislation that would levy additional sanctions on Chinese officials found to be interfering in Hong Kong affairs. Their legislation includes secondary sanctions on banks doing business with those officials. That legislation focuses on the entire Chinese financial sector, according to the senators.

Van Hollen said the legislation “is designed to hit the Chinese Communist Party and the individuals involved in these decisions where it hurts.”

The issues surrounding the Uighurs and the autonomy of Hong Kong are just a few of the many raised by lawmakers in the weeks following the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“We must acknowledge that the CCP is the greatest economic and national security threat of this generation,” said Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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