In a refreshing show of bipartisanship and shared values, the Senate on Tuesday voted unanimously for two bills supporting Hong Kong protesters and human rights.
President Donald Trump should promptly sign these apparently veto-proof measures after they move through the House.
China is bristling at the legislation, which could further complicate trade negotiations. But the U.S. must continue confronting China for unacceptable human-rights violations, including vast internment camps for religious minorities, and the erosion of rights promised to Hong Kong when it was handed off by Britain in 1997.
Senators should have moved sooner. The Hong Kong protests began in March after city officials proposed extradition rules that could have allowed political activists to be detained and tried in China. That led to massive protests, fueled by discontent with the firm hand increasingly applied by China President Xi Jinping.
While the scale of protests has declined, their intensity and violence increased ahead of the Senate vote.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 was introduced by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and had 53 co-sponsors, including Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington. A similar bill passed the House last month.
Rubio’s act directs the State Department to report annually on civil-liberties issues and whether Hong Kong remains autonomous enough to justify its special trade status.
Individuals responsible for human-rights violations, including extrajudicial rendition or torture of anyone in Hong Kong, would be barred from the U.S. and sanctioned under the bill.
A second bill, introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, prohibits the export of tear gas, rubber bullets and similar munitions to the Hong Kong Police Force.
Meanwhile, trade talks appear to be making little progress, despite periodic glimmers of hope.
Although U.S. farmers don’t expect the dispute to be settled soon, their general sentiment about the agriculture industry improved in Purdue University’s latest survey, and 75% believe that the trade dispute will ultimately be resolved to benefit U.S. agriculture.
Last year, China imported about $9.3 billion worth of U.S. agricultural products, $18 billion worth of airplanes and $59 billion worth of services, including software.
Core trade issues include China’s protectionism and theft of American intellectual property, which costs $225 billion to $600 billion per year, according to the U.S. Trade Representative. That includes an estimated $18 billion or more of pirated software, up to $41 billion of counterfeit and pirated goods and theft of trade secrets costing the U.S. economy at least $180 billion per year. One in five large corporations in a CNBC survey had intellectual property stolen by Chinese companies last year.
While the trade war is costly and positive relations with China are important, the U.S. must continue playing the long game, pursuing fair trade while supporting human rights and pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.