The sponsor of US legislation that could pave the way for diplomatic action and economic sanctions against Hong Kong said on Thursday that he believed US President Donald Trump would sign the bill into law, owing to overwhelming congressional support.
"My understanding is that they will sign" the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, Senator Marco Rubio said in a CNBC interview, after being asked about recent hawkish comments about China by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
While Trump has not commented on the legislation recently, he discussed his trade war with China with reporters on Wednesday, saying: "I don't think they're stepping up to the level that I want."
In a research note, Henrietta Treyz, director of economic policy at Veda Partners, an investment advisory group, said that throughout the last week, "there was a notable lack of opposition from the White House congressional affairs team to the legislation being taken up for a vote in the Senate".
"We consider this either tacit acceptance of the underlying bill or quiet encouragement for its advancement," Treyz said.
"Either way, the White House, in our understanding, was not caught off guard or surprised by the swift progress the bill saw on Capitol Hill and should be considered more likely to sign it than veto it," she said.
Pompeo has been more vocal about China. In a speech last week, Washington's top diplomat accused Beijing of repeatedly failing to keep its promises.
"What we are confronted with is a challenge from the Chinese Communist Party" that is "inconsistent with what they have promised", Pompeo told a packed hall at Rice University in Houston.
Asked whether Washington would respond with military force if China deployed troops in Hong Kong, Pompeo was non-committal, saying: "These situations are all highly factually dependent".
Rubio, a Republican representing Florida, also warned Beijing that its opposition to the legislation constituted interference in the affairs of the US government, turning the Chinese government's position on the matter on its head.
"Our treatment of Hong Kong is an internal matter, it's a matter of our own public policy," Rubio said. "We treat commerce and trade with Hong Kong, and anything that comes out of there, differently than we do the mainland. That's our law."
"Their comments are interference with our internal affairs, which is something that they're always complaining about," he added.
Soon before Rubio spoke to CNBC, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the US of repeatedly enacting legislation that interferes in China's internal affairs, "violating the basic norms of international relations".
Wang made the comments in a meeting with former US defence secretary William Cohen in Beijing.
The House of Representatives voted 417-1 on Wednesday to approve the Senate's version of the legislation, which the upper chamber passed unanimously on Tuesday. The House passed its version, also without objections, last month, but only a unified bill can be sent to the president.
Trump has until December 2 to sign the bill or veto it.
The legislation includes a requirement that the US government produce an annual report, certified by the secretary of state, on whether 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.
The legislation also calls for sanctions against any individuals or entities deemed to have violated freedoms guaranteed under Hong Kong's Basic Law and directs the State Department not to deny visas to those subjected to "politically motivated" arrests or detention in the city.
In Beijing, Wang described Congress' passage of the measure as "madness" that will damage the China-US relationship, adding that such legislation had shaken the nations' mutual trust.
"Right now, the China-US relationship has reached a critical crossroads," Wang said. "But we regret to see that some politicians in the United States are now smearing, attacking, slandering China to a level close to madness."
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