Support for a US Senate bill that could pave the way for diplomatic action and economic sanctions against Hong Kong has risen to nearly half of the chamber's members, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as the legislation is set for a final push towards passage.
The number of senators cosponsoring the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act rose by seven to 49 on Monday, the biggest jump since the bill was introduced by Republican Marco Rubio with the backing of seven others in June.
Besides McConnell, who controls the Senate's legislative agenda, the most recent cosponsors include Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar, who represents Minnesota, and Chuck Grassley, a senior Republican from Iowa.
California's Kamala Harris and New Jersey's Cory Booker, also running for president on the Democratic ticket in next year's election, signed on as cosponsors last month.
The spike in support for Rubio's bill follows a steady stream of reports about a violent stand-off playing out since Sunday between police and radical students at Polytechnic University in Hong Kong.
While some of the students resorted to throwing petrol bombs at the officers, others blocked roads and engaged in other tactics to distract the police and thin out their ranks at the campus.
Unrest in Hong Kong has mobilised Rubio and other lawmakers in Washington, including Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Democratic Representative James McGovern, who blame Beijing for undermining democracy in the semi-autonomous city.
Cruz sponsored the Hong Kong Policy Reevaluation Act, which is pending, and McGovern sponsored the Protect Hong Kong Act, which was passed by the House last month.
McConnell put Rubio's bill on the Senate calendar in September, but a date for a floor vote has not been set.
Rubio and fellow Republican James Risch, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, initiated on Thursday an expedited "hotline" process to sidestep a roll-call vote, which will lead to passage on Tuesday if no objections are voiced in the chamber.
A version of the bill in the House of Representatives, sponsored by New Jersey Republican Christopher Smith, passed last month using a similar process.
Both versions include a requirement that the US government produce an annual report, certified by the Secretary of State, that Hong Kong has retained enough autonomy from China to continue the city's distinct trading status.
That distinction protects Hong Kong from the punitive tariffs Washington placed on goods from China last year.
Both versions also call for sanctions against any individuals or entities deemed to have violated freedoms guaranteed under Hong Kong Basic Law and direct the State Department to not deny visas to those subjected to "politically motivated" arrests or detention in the city.
Cruz's Hong Kong Policy Reevaluation Act would require the State Department to report on how China "uses Hong Kong to avoid US export controls, duties on imported goods" and on Beijing's "use of Hong Kong security agencies to conduct espionage against foreign nationals", among other things.
McGovern's Protect Hong Kong Act, which passed the House along with that chamber's version of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, would prohibit US companies from exporting non-lethal crowd control and defence items to the city.
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