(Bloomberg) -- Two U.S. lawmakers seeking to press China on human rights are trying to restart work on stalled legislation that would sanction Chinese officials for their treatment of Uighur Muslims in the western part of the country.
Senator Marco Rubio said he’s working on revising a bill he’s co-sponsoring that can pass the House and Senate. Among other provisions, it would require the president to impose visa and financial restrictions on senior Chinese government officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses against Uighurs in Xianjiang province or elsewhere in China.
The House passed an amended version of his bill in December, but concerns over export controls added to the legislation -- and a pending impeachment trial, among other pressing concerns -- have slowed things down.
“The House and Senate agree on what we’re trying to do,” Rubio, of Florida, said. “At some point we’ll find a window here in the legislative calendar when we can move that bill.”
“Our expectation is that we will resolve the differences and we will move the bill forward this year, hopefully soon,” said Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who with Rubio is co-chairman of the Congressional-Executive Committee on China. “We will get to yes.”
Congress ended last year with several bipartisan measures to toughen U.S. policy toward China. Legislation aimed at supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong passed both chambers and was signed into law by President Donald Trump, despite initial objections from the White House over concerns it could harm trade negotiations with China. Shortly following the enactment of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, the House also passed its version of the Uighur bill, prompting threats of retaliation from China.
Human Rights in China
The reinvigorated effort on the Uighur legislation comes as the commission co-chaired by Rubio and McGovern released its annual report on China’s human rights record amid ongoing protests in the former British colony.
The commission highlighted incidents in which Hong Kong activists were barred from running for office, along with the criminal prosecution of leaders of a previous round of pro-democracy demonstrations.
“Chinese government influence over the territory, and Hong Kong officials’ willingness to conform to the interests of the Chinese government, continued a trend of decreased autonomy observed over the past several years,” the commission said in the report. “This trend has implications for both the protection of the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and for the future of U.S. policy towards Hong Kong, which is based on the territory’s continuing autonomy.”
In a statement, the Hong Kong government said foreign governments “should not interfere in any form in the internal affairs” of the city and criticized the report as inaccurate. China’s foreign ministry office in Hong Kong called the report further evidence of U.S. meddling in the city’s affairs. Beijing has long disputed the findings of the commission, which includes some of Congress’s most vocal critics of China.
“This institution always accuses China without grounds out of a political agenda -- it is neither objective nor credible,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a news conference in Beijing on Thursday. He urged the U.S. to reflect on human rights at home and to “stop smearing China.”
The report also made recommendations to address other human rights concerns, from the treatment of Uighur Muslims to censorship and increasingly advanced surveillance technology.
“U.S. foreign policy must prioritize the promotion of universal human rights and the rule of law in China, not only to respect and protect the basic dignity of the people of China, but to better promote security and prosperity for all of humanity,” the commission said.
(Updates with Chinese foreign ministry comment in 11th paragraph.)
--With assistance from Natalie Lung, Stephen Tan and Peter Martin.
To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Flatley in Washington at email@example.com;Iain Marlow in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org;Karen Leigh in Hong Kong at email@example.com
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