Senate Unanimously Backs Protesters in Bill: Hong Kong Update

Natalie Lung, Iain Marlow, Annie Lee and Erin Roman
Senate Unanimously Backs Protesters in Bill: Hong Kong Update

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters have received a boost after the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday aimed at supporting them and warning China against a violent suppression of the demonstrations.

While the bipartisan vote comes in contrast to President Donald Trump’s near-silence on the issue, it marks a challenge to the government in Beijing just as the U.S. and China seek to close a preliminary agreement to end their trade war. The Senate measure would require annual reviews of Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law to assess the extent to which China has chipped away at the city’s autonomy.

”The United States has treated commerce and trade with Hong Kong differently than it has commercial and trade activity with the mainland of China,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the bill’s lead sponsor, said on the Senate floor. “But what’s happened over the last few years is the steady effort on the part of Chinese authorities to erode that autonomy and those freedoms.”

The bill would require annual reviews of Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law and would sanction Chinese officials deemed responsible for undermining Hong Kong’s “fundamental freedoms and autonomy.” The House unanimously passed a slightly different bill last month; both chambers will have to pass the same version before it goes toTrump for his signature.

Chinese officials have warned the U.S. against what they described as interfering in internal affairs and threatened “strong countermeasures” after the House vote last month.

Key Developments:

Senate passes Hong Kong bill Protesters call for further demonstrations on WednesdayHundreds evacuated from university on Monday nightTens of thousands marched to rescue campus demonstratorsOfficial says chaos putting Sunday’s election at riskChina says mask ban ruling challenges its authority

Here’s the latest (all times local):

Protesters set to target roads and rail services (5 a.m.)

Protests are set to continue in Hong Kong on Wednesday, with demonstrators planning to block roads and disrupt rail services across the city starting as early as 5 a.m. local time, according to a social media post.

Hospitals were overwhelmed with injured protesters who were evacuated from a university campus after a standoff with police that’s transfixed the city. Schools were set to reopen following days of chaos in the financial hub.

The city’s leader Carrie Lam said earlier Tuesday that she wanted a peaceful end to the showdown between protesters and police at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University that’s persisted since this weekend. The school has appealed to police to not enter its campus for the time being so that people are given a chance to leave in a peaceful and orderly manner.

Police said Tuesday that they fired more than 1,400 tear gas volleys the previous day amid battles with protesters.

Demonstrations seeking greater democracy in the Beijing-controlled territory have become increasingly violent in recent weeks, with protesters vandalizing transportation networks and China-friendly businesses as they push for demands including an independent probe into police violence and the ability to nominate and elect city leaders.

300 minors “safely” left PolyU (11:20 p.m. Tuesday)

Hong Kong Chief Executive Lam said in a Facebook post that, as of 8 p.m. local time, about 300 minors under the age of 18 had “safely” left the PolyU campus. She urged any remaining minors to leave under the arrangement with police.

The city’s government subsequently issued a statement saying, as of 11 p.m. local time, 800 people in total had left the university, with almost 300 of them under age 18. A further 10 masked protesters who attempted to leave forcefully were arrested, according to the statement.

Seven arrested while fleeing PolyU (10:45 p.m. Tuesday)

At least seven people attempted to break out from the PolyU campus, but were caught and arrested by riot police nearby, according to Apple Daily.

Separately, 10 people left the campus accompanied by medics, while 20 first-aid volunteers walked out orderly with a lawmaker and a lawyer.

Pro-democracy leader attacked (8:00 p.m. Tuesday)

Former Democratic Party Chairman Albert Ho was attacked outside Tin Hau station on Hong Kong Island, according to Apple Daily. He went to the hospital for treatment, the report said. Ho was singled out by China as one of the “gang of four” behind the city’s protests.

PolyU appeals to police (5:56 p.m. Tuesday)

PolyU has requested that police not enter its campus for the time being so that people who remain can be given the chance to leave in a peaceful and orderly manner, according to a statement on the school’s website.

1,458 tear gas cannisters fired (5:45 pm. Tuesday)

Police fired 1,458 rounds of tear gas, 1,391 rubber bullets, 325 bean bag rounds and 265 sponge grenades on Monday, police Senior Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung said at the force’s daily briefing. The police have also arrested or recorded personal data of 1,100 people at PolyU or in its vicinity as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, Chief Superintendent Kwok Ka-chuen said at the same briefing.

Kwok said that some 600 people who evacuated the campus overnight did so voluntarily and that most weren’t students of the university. He reiterated Lam’s hope for a peaceful resolution, echoing her earlier comment that such an outcome was up to the “rioters.”

Hospitals overwhelmed (5:23 p.m. Tuesday)

Some 280 people coming out of PolyU have been admitted to public hospitals across Hong Kong since this morning, police officials said at the daily briefing. Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority urged people to visit out-patient clinics or private doctors barring serious illness or injury, as the Accident and Emergency departments of public hospitals were overwhelmed by the influx.

Primary, secondary schools to reopen (1:19 p.m. Tuesday)

Hong Kong’s Education Bureau said in a statement that all primary and secondary schools, along with some special-needs schools, would resume classes Wednesday as traffic conditions gradually stabilized. Kindergartens and schools for disabled or mentally handicapped children are to remain suspended until Sunday.

The city’s schools have been suspended since last Thursday amid days of unrest that paralyzed parts of Hong Kong and resulted in traffic and transport service disruptions.

District Council election in balance (10:17 a.m. Tuesday)

The government wants to hold the District Council election on Sunday as scheduled but it depends on putting a stop to violence so people can vote and poll workers can reach polling stations, Lam told reporters.

She also said the Chinese military’s move to help clean streets in Hong Kong over the weekend was “not uncommon” and citizens should not “over-interpret this particular act.” She said her government remains confident it can handle the situation.

Lam seeks peaceful end to standoff (10:03 a.m. Tuesday)

At a regular weekly briefing, Lam said she wanted a peaceful end to the standoff at PolyU but it also depends on “rioters” who have turned universities into “weapons factories.” About 100 people remain, she said, with 600 people leaving the PolyU campus overnight including several hundred who were under 18 years old.

Hundreds of protesters evacuated (8:16 a.m. Tuesday)

About 100 people were still barricaded inside the university on Tuesday morning after hundreds either escaped overnight or were evacuated following negotiations involving political figures, the South China Morning Post reported.

More than 300 people left the PolyU campus since midnight, Radio Television Hong Kong reported, citing law professor Eric Cheung. Cheung was among those who tried to persuade protesters to leave and vowed to accompany them to police stations. Those who chose to leave registered with the police and had their belongings searched in an orderly manner, RTHK said.

China opposes mask ruling (7:27 a.m. Tuesday)

Hong Kong court’s ruling on the city’s mask ban challenges the authority of China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and the governing power of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office spokesman Yang Guang. He said the court ruling will have a severe negative social and political impact.

On Monday, the High Court in Hong Kong found the ban unconstitutional, raising questions about the limits of colonial-era emergency powers that Lam invoked for the first time in more than a half century to pass the measure.

McConnell urges Trump role (5:09 a.m. Tuesday)

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged President Donald Trump to speak out on behalf of the protesters in Hong Kong.

“The world should hear from him directly that the United States stands with these brave women and men,” McConnell said Monday afternoon on the Senate floor.

McConnell said Trump should make Hong Kong’s autonomy a focus of America’s bilateral engagement with China, not just trade. The Republican leader’s comments come as the Senate moves to expedited passage of legislation this week which would place Hong Kong’s special trading status with the U.S. under annual review.

Pompeo seeks independent probe (4:06 a.m. Tuesday)

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the U.S. is “gravely concerned” about rising violence in Hong Kong and called on Lam to allow an independent probe of protest incidents.

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Monday afternoon, Pompeo said violence by any side in the dispute is “unacceptable,” but he singled out Hong Kong’s government as having a primary responsibility to keep events peaceful.

Pompeo’s comments followed an earlier White House statement calling on Beijing to “honor its commitments under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and to protect Hong Kong’s freedom, legal system, and democratic way of life.”

--With assistance from Stanley James, Linus Chua, Sebastian Tong, Shelly Banjo, Glen Carey, Fion Li, Shawna Kwan, Karen Leigh, Laura Litvan, Kiuyan Wong, Jacob Gu, Simon Lee, Daniel Flatley, Anna Edgerton and Jason Scott.

To contact the reporters on this story: Natalie Lung in Hong Kong at flung6@bloomberg.net;Iain Marlow in Hong Kong at imarlow1@bloomberg.net;Annie Lee in Hong Kong at olee42@bloomberg.net;Erin Roman in London at eroman16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Jodi Schneider, Bill Faries

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