President Trump said Thursday of Hong Kong, “they’ve had riots for a long period of time,” where locals are protesting efforts by communist China to crack down and violate Hongkongers’ human rights. “Somebody said that at some point they’re going to want to stop that,” Trump added. “But that’s between Hong Kong and that’s between China, because Hong Kong is a part of China.”
This phrasing, a bizarre regurgitation of mainland Chinese propaganda about recent events in Hong Kong, is very disappointing to hear out of Trump’s mouth. We hope this is Trump speaking off the cuff and not him selling out Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong protesters, not rioters, but orderly protesters, aren’t simply struggling for freedom against a vicious totalitarian regime. They also embody the struggle over international order in the 21st century. The struggle between freedom and statist repression will decide the entire world’s future in this century. Humanity will either grow increasingly free and prosperous under an American-led international order or find imprisonment under the bloody flag of Xi Jinping’s cronyism.
This is why Trump and his administration should do whatever possible to publicize Hong Kong’s plight and pressure China into respecting its obligations there.
No, China will not welcome additional U.S. involvement in the Hong Kong crisis. Beijing vehemently opposes any foreign support for the Hong Kong protest movement. Such action, Xi’s government says, is an outrageous breach of China’s sovereignty.
But the involvement is still justified. The Sino-British declaration governing Hong Kong requires China to respect a “one country, two systems” approach to governing the former British colony until 2047. China’s flagrant usurpation of Hongkongers’ rights is thus a violation of China’s international obligations. The extradition law that would have allowed China to whisk political prisoners back to the mainland has thankfully been defeated, but Hongkongers are right to persist in rejecting the Communist Party’s domination over their lives.
What can the U.S. do to support this struggle against injustice?
The Trump administration should first resort to that oldest but finest tool of democracy: Publicize injustice. Xi’s global “Belt and Road” initiative, which seeks to replace the U.S. international order with Beijing’s feudal mercantilist order, must be revealed for what it is. Hong Kong proves that Xi’s siren song is a lie. Wherever Beijing plants its ugly communist flag, it will insist on energetic political domination of the “partners” who sell out and take its money.
Alongside China’s imperial ambitions in the South China Sea and its detention of more than 1 million innocent Muslims in concentration camps, the events in Hong Kong are showing that Xi is the world’s most powerful enemy of human freedom.
The U.S. should call an urgent United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss China’s breach of the Sino-British declaration and the human rights abuses Hongkongers are suffering. We recognize, of course, that China will veto any meaningful resolution. But the international media attention will embarrass China and undercut Xi’s credibility with the developing nations where he seeks to expand his influence. And if Xi’s China is seen for the dystopia it is, major international investors will take heed.
The U.S. might also consider leaking evidence of the links among Beijing, Hong Kong government autocrats, and the city’s Triad organized crime groups. China’s MSS intelligence service has carefully cultivated links with the Triads as a deniable means of exercising blackmail, intimidation, and control over its adversaries in Hong Kong. To shine a light on this malevolent governance would be to expose Xi’s China for the lawless society it is.
If the Trump administration wanted to go further, it might also deploy boutique intelligence capabilities to Hong Kong. The U.S. intelligence community has ways of disrupting efforts by Chinese-controlled Hong Kong police and the Chinese intelligence services and military to monitor and detain protest leaders. The U.S. could also enable Hongkongers to more securely arrange protests without the prior knowledge of Chinese authorities.
Yes, there are limits to what Trump can do here. But he can do better than he is doing now.