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US lawmakers seek more action on Hong Kong after arrests

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Washington (AFP)

US lawmakers on Wednesday urged further action against China over its imposition of a security law in Hong Kong, where police broke up defiant protests.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged President Donald Trump to do more under a 2019 law that lays out sanctions against officials who infringe on the freedoms promised to Hong Kong.

"We must consider all tools available, including visa limitations and economic penalties," Pelosi, a longtime advocate for human rights in China, said in a rare appearance at a congressional hearing.

"If we refuse to speak out on human rights in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out for human rights any place in the world," she said.

Representative Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, also called on the administration to take further steps.

The Trump administration has taken a series of actions including restricting visas to an unspecified number of Chinese officials and blocking high-tech exports to Hong Kong.

But Representative Brad Sherman, a Democrat, said that Trump "squandered months" by not speaking out more forcefully on Hong Kong as he prioritized a trade deal with China.

"Hong Kong has been on the backburner in an effort to sell soybeans and we haven't even sold the soybeans," he said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again hinted Wednesday that the administration will do more.

Trump "wants to ensure, with a handful of exceptions, that Hong Kong is treated just like mainland China because that's the way that General Secretary Xi has chosen to treat that place as well," Pompeo told reporters, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The House has not yet acted on a tougher bill that passed the Senate and spells out mandatory sanctions against Chinese officials, the Hong Kong police and any banks that deal with them.

Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat who helped lead the new bill, urged Pelosi to schedule a House vote "immediately" after China enforced the security law, which cracks down on dissent.

Hong Kong police on Wednesday arrested 370 people, including 10 under the new law, on the anniversary of the city's 1997 handover from Britain.

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