Even as he announced he was signing the bills, Mr. Trump appeared to hedge his full-throated support for the broader legislation, saying that “certain provisions of the act would interfere with the exercise of the president’s constitutional authority to state the foreign policy of the United States.”
“My administration will treat each of the provisions of the act consistently with the president’s constitutional authorities with respect to foreign relations,” Mr. Trump said. He did not specify which parts of the bill posed such interference with executive powers.
One of the main provisions compels the administration to impose economic and travel sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials found to be violating human rights in the territory. Mr. Trump or relevant agencies could try to slow walk such sanctions — and might even use the threat of imposing them to as a cudgel against China in trade negotiations.
Mr. Trump has refused to impose sanctions on Chinese officials for the mass detention of Muslims, despite recommendations to do so by some American officials.
For months, Hong Kong protesters had called for the United States to pass the bill. The protesters in October even held a rally supporting in the bill that was attended by more than 100,000 people; many waved American flags or wrapped them around their bodies. Protesters say the law would give them more leverage over officials in China and Hong Kong, since the officials want to maintain access to the United States for themselves and their family members, and they also want to preserve the favorable trade status between Washington and Hong Kong.
“I hope it can act as a warning to Hong Kong and Beijing officials, pro-Beijing people and the police,” said Nelson Lam, 32, a food importer and regular protester. “I think if they know that what they do may lead to sanctions, then they will become restrained when dealing with protests. We just want our autonomy back. We are not their foe.”
Within the White House, Matthew Pottinger, the deputy national security adviser and former senior Asia director on Mr. Trump’s National Security Council staff, has advocated for tough policies against China. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to openly endorse the bill when asked about it by reporters, but did say, “We have human rights standards that we apply all across the world, and Hong Kong is no different.”
Emily Cochrane reported from West Palm Beach, Fla.; Edward Wong from Houston; and Keith Bradsher from Shanghai. Ezra Cheung contributed reporting from Hong Kong.