Other’s opinion: Respond strongly to China on Hong Kong

Published 7:01 am Saturday, June 6, 2020

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Star Tribune

“Hide our strength, bide our time,” said Deng Xiaoping, China’s former leader. Xi Jinping, China’s current president, seems to believe the opposite.

Shaking off his failures that let an outbreak in Wuhan become a global coronavirus pandemic, Xi is quickening the crackdown on Hong Kong by championing a new national-security law that would allow China to severely limit the freedoms of speech, press and assembly, as well as judicial independence, that were guaranteed when the United Kingdom handed Hong Kong over in 1997. The rules were part of the Basic Law, which was supposed to allow Hong Kong to retain rights under a promised “one country, two systems” rubric. But like so much under the repressive regime, that was a lie.

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On May 27, the U.S. State Department informed Congress that it no longer believed that Hong Kong had significant autonomy, a designation that was reflected in President Donald Trump’s decision to “begin the process” of ending portions of Hong Kong’s favorable economic status with the United States.

There is justifiable bipartisan anger over China’s increasingly aggressive and repressive regime. Chinese citizens aren’t just threatened in Hong Kong. More than 1 million Muslims have been been imprisoned in gulags — or worse — in Western China. Abroad, China’s territorial claims have led to maritime provocations; it is currently skirmishing with India over a long-festering border dispute; and it continues to menace Taiwan. Meanwhile, China maintains its predatory business and trade practices.

The bellicosity abroad reflects domestic weakness, including an export economy that’s ailing in the pandemic. Here in the U.S., China has become an increasingly important issue in the 2020 campaign, with both Trump and de facto Democratic nominee Joe Biden exchanging accusations about the other being “soft” on China.

The current climate is reminiscent of the run-up of the Cold War. But it would be unfortunate for the world to devolve back to that kind of conflict, especially when international cooperation is needed to tackle transnational challenges like climate change and, yes, the coronavirus.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on May 24, “It’s time for the United States to give up its wishful thinking on changing China.”

No, it’s not. The U.S. and its allies never gave up wishful thinking on the Soviet Union. But it’s important to remember what carried the West in the Cold War: ideals, international institutions and allies. All three have been eroded under Trump, including his announcement on Friday that the U.S. was withdrawing from the World Health Organization, ostensibly because of China’s influence on it, which would only solidify with this decision. And through a nationalist newspaper, China called out the U.S. for its “double standards” on Hong Kong and the growing protests over George Floyd’s killing. “Hong Kong’s rioters and police should carefully watch how the ‘democratic U.S.’ deals with the chaos in Minnesota,” the Global Times wrote.

Trump should continue America’s historic support for human rights and democracy abroad and better reflect them at home. And more than ever, the U.S. needs allies; alienating them through moves like the WHO defunding only strengthens China’s hand. Such hard issues, and not who is “soft” on China, should be the real debate this election season.