Trump’s trifecta: Annoy China, back Hong Kong, promote world democracy

The United States showed Hong Kong and China, and the world, that the pro-freedom movement in Hong Kong deserved international backing.



December 3, 2019 - 10:28 AM

Pro-democracy protesters take part in a Thanksgiving Day rally in Honk Kong. Protesters gathered to say thank you to the United States after U.S. President Donald Trump signed legislation supporting the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, with new legislation requiring annual reviews of Hong Kong's rights and freedoms. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images/TNS)

After six months of protests, Hong Kong recently delivered a strong rebuke to China over its attempts to broaden control over the semi-autonomous territory. Pro-democracy candidates overwhelmingly won local council elections, sweeping 347 of 452 seats.

Democracy in action, no doubt about it — the kind that likely has Chinese President Xi Jinping seething, the kind that President Donald Trump should support.

On Wednesday, Trump took strong, positive action. He expressed solidarity with Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement by signing congressional legislation intended to show Hong Kong  — and Beijing — where America’s sympathies lie.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act passed unanimously in the Senate and was approved 417 to 1 in the House.

The legislation gives Washington the ability to impose sanctions on China and Hong Kong officials responsible for the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, and requires the State Department to annually review the special status the U.S. gives Hong Kong in trade issues.

“I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China and the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said in a statement. “They are being enacted in the hope that leaders and representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all.””

Trump had tap danced around the legislation for a time, as if he wasn’t really interested. He had rationalized that he couldn’t afford to jeopardize his bid for a trade deal with China by antagonizing Xi. But the reality is China’s decision on a trade deal doesn’t hinge on U.S. policy toward Hong Kong, and specifically whether he signed the Hong Kong legislation Congress passed.

Whether China agrees to a trade deal depends entirely on whether China thinks such a deal would be good for its economy. “The idea of linkage between Hong Kong and the trade talks is largely a figment of Trump’s imagination,” Aaron Friedberg, a China scholar at Princeton University and a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, told The Washington Post.

The broader point is that the United States had a chance to show Hong Kong and China, and the world, that the pro-freedom movement in Hong Kong deserved international backing, and Trump delivered it. The Chinese government, not surprisingly, expressed annoyance with U.S. support for democracy. So Trump ruined Xi’s day by poking a stick at authoritarian rule? Good.

The people of Hong Kong refuse to be bullied by China. Through the recent local council elections, they’ve shown their unshakable commitment to the principles of democracy and freedom. Trump backed that commitment by signing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. We’re glad to see this happen.