The bill will punish any banks that do business with a list of senior Chinese officials involved in Hong Kong affairs, and also targets police units in Hong Kong that have clashed with protesters over the past 13 months of unrest in the city.
The bill had already passed the Senate, but now goes back to the upper house after some changes were made. The Senate could hold a second vote as early as Thursday, before the bill is sent to Donald Trump for his approval or veto.
Speaking in a rare appearance at the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee ahead of Wednesday afternoon’s vote, House speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the new Hong Kong security law represented “a brutal, sweeping crackdown against the people of Hong Kong, intended to destroy the freedoms they were promised” during the handover from Britain.
The new law in Hong Kong defines and bans “subversion”, “secessionism”, “terrorism” and “foreign collusion”, as well as setting up a national security office in the city for the first time that will not be answerable to local laws.
Also speaking in that hearing was the prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and former Legislative Council member Nathan Law, who said China “must be held accountable for the promises it has made to both Hong Kongers and the world”.
“Through fear intimidation, and heavy-handed governance, Beijing turns Hong Kong into just another Chinese city while trying to keep its outer shell,” he told the committee. “In doing so, it hopes to preserve the illusion that the city is still autonomous. The international community must not be confused.”
Simply by speaking to the US congressional body, Law said, he risks being found in violation of the new law’s provisions on colluding with foreign powers. Law said he had previously testified to the committee twice in the past year, but that then he “did not have to worry about going back to Hong Kong afterward to continue my street activism”, adding: “This time is different.”
Ms Pelosi, who has been a vocal critic of Beijing’s actions regarding Hong Kong, later said that the US sanctions were “an urgently needed response to the cowardly Chinese government's passage of its so-called 'national security' law”.
Politicians from both American parties urged the Trump administration to take strong action against China over the Hong Kong law.
Secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the security law was an affront to all nations and that Washington would continue to implement Mr Trump's directive to end the territory's special trading status.
The US has already begun eliminating this status, which until now saw the US treat Hong Kong differently to mainland China because of its unique freedoms and autonomy, underpinning the city’s position as an international financial powerhouse. The administration has halted defence exports to Hong Kong that might also double up as police equipment, and restricted the territory's access to high technology products.
China has said it will respond by imposing visa restrictions on Americans seen as interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs - a move Mr Pompeo called “a sign of how Beijing refuses to take responsibility for its own choices”.
China also said on Thursday that it “reserves the right to take corresponding measures” against Britain, Hong Kong’s former colonial power, after Boris Johnson said the UK would push ahead with its offer to ease visa rules for some three million Hong Kongers.
Britain said that anyone born in Hong Kong before 1997 would be allowed to come to the UK and stay for extendable periods of up to one year, potentially giving them the right to eventually apply for British citizenship down the line.
In a statement on Thursday, the Chinese embassy in London said: “If the British side makes unilateral changes to the relevant practice, it will breach its own position and pledges as well as international law and basic norms governing international relations. We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures.”
The embassy also called on Britain “to view objectively and fairly the national security legislation for Hong Kong, respect China's position and concerns, (and) refrain from interfering in Hong Kong affairs in any way”.