WASHINGTON — A bipartisan bill to impose sanctions on China over its recent undermining of Hong Kong's autonomy passed the U.S. Senate on a voice vote Thursday, June 25.

The "Hong Kong Autonomy Act" likely would have passed by unanimous consent last week, but Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who co-sponsored the bill, blocked it at the request of the White House.

The first-term senator said the Treasury and State departments brought forward several technical corrections to the bill, and he wanted to make sure they were considered. After the bill passed Thursday, June 25, Cramer said he was grateful to his colleagues and Treasury for working to improve the bill over the last week.

U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer. Forum News Service file photo
U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer. Forum News Service file photo

If approved by the House of Representatives and signed by President Donald Trump, the legislation would impose mandatory sanctions on people or companies that support Chinese efforts to erode democratic freedoms and economic autonomy in Hong Kong.

Residents of Hong Kong, a former British colony, have long enjoyed democratic and economic liberties not afforded to those in mainland China, but Beijing officials have recently made attempts to institute extradition and security laws that observers say could do away with its unique autonomous status.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., led an initial charge to condemn the actions of the Chinese government and co-sponsored the sanctions bill that passed Thursday.

"This is a good moment for the U.S. Senate," Hawley said. "This is a moment when we've been able to come together, to speak with one voice and to send a clear message to Beijing that its attempts to steamroll the liberties of the people of Hong Kong will not go unnoticed and will not go unaddressed."

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who sponsored the bill, said it would have been great to pass the bill last week, adding he hoped no senator would make a last-minute objection on behalf of the White House as Cramer did a week before.

President Donald Trump's administration already has the authority to impose some sanctions on China, but it has so far opted not to do so. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in May that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, a declaration that could change the way the U.S. trades with the city.