President Trump has a chance to take a page from Ronald Reagan. He should do it. Ronald Reagan sided with freedom-seeking people dominated by Soviet Russia. Donald Trump should sign the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019,” siding with freedom-seeking Hong Kong.
First, do not fall for the false dichotomy: Signing a pro-democracy bill – one that allows sanctions on China for human rights abuses and snuffing out Hong Kong’s freedom – will end the trade pact with China.
China’s economy is slowing, debt high, currency manipulated, theft of intellectual property outed, missteps at World Trade Organization litigated, and 5-G dominance plainly at risk. They sell four times as much to us as we can to them. They are on the ropes – and need trade with the US.
Militarily, they are modernizing fast, pressuring regional economies, erecting military islands in the South China Sea, and militarizing space. But they cannot go toe to toe with the US military – and they know it.
To be clear, China wants a first-stage trade deal – to reinforce their slowing growth, allow pre-Christmas sales to US consumers, avoid December 15 tariff bump-ups. They are beginning to lose face in this dance. They know what we know: Americans have many buying options, and they need our cash.
That is reason one why President Trump should damn Beijing’s torpedoes and sign the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019” – currently on his desk. It is the right thing to do.
Reason two is Americans, represented by unanimity in the House and Senate, stand with the freedom-seeking Hong Kong population. This bill passed the House and Senate on unanimous voice votes. The House accepted the Senate version – and whisked it off to the president. In short, there is moral authority behind this bill – and the President should add his.
Third, something stunning is happening in Hong Kong. It happened over the weekend. Against the odds, facing communist pressure not to do so, the people of Hong Kong – many born into freedom, 92 percent Chinese – voted for freedom.
That is right, on Sunday the 24th, “pro-democracy candidates won big gains in district council elections…” after an all-out attempt to blunt them, arrest protestors, punish those seeking rights promised Hong Kong in 1997.
That outcome is remarkable. The people of this semi-autonomous territory are saying in one voice, “support us.” They value individual freedom above communist order.
This is rather inspiring – or should be – for Americans. Our nation represents a beacon for those who hope, work, and assert the right to vote – democracy.
On the numbers, “the Electoral Affairs Commission said a record-smashing 71.2 percent of the electorate, or more than 2.9 million residents, took part in voting for 452 seats in 18 district councils,” speaking loudly for freedom. Four years ago, turnout was just 47 percent.
So, the die is cast. China could attempt to suppress Hong Kong’s longing for freedom, compliance with promises, and individual liberty, but the cost would be high.
Not only would China lose stability, if activated Hong Kong rose against the crackdown. Almost 60 percent of Chinese finance goes through Hong Kong; that would dry up or become highly volatile. The territory would slide into recession, ending a major engine of Chinese growth.
Even without President Trump’s signature on the pro-democracy bill, the global response to another Tiananmen crackdown would be immediate and unified. If China’s economy is weakening, it would drop into a stall under international condemnation.
What is the right outcome from here? Simpler than most realize. If Chinese leadership were to take the vaunted long view, one outcome would flummox pundits.
If China releases pressure on Hong Kong, allowing freedoms sought to be assured, they could also sign a trade bill. Their economy would firm, Hong Kong continue to be an engine, and they would get credit for common sense.
On our side, President Trump should still sign the pro-democracy bill – making clear Americans live by and believe in moral compass. We stand with those who seek, and fight for freedom. That message would be heard around the world – from Iran and North Korea to Russia. Americans would applaud and no one in Congress would oppose.
Meantime, China’s inclination to look after their own interests, a capacity well-honed, would cause their leaders to finish stage-one of that elusive trade accord. Our speaking up for human rights will derail nothing. It will remind them that we put right first.
A second phase of the US-China trade relationship, when we hold them accountable across a broader range, must await President Trump’s reelection, since China hopes to wait him out.
That is fine. Our farmers will benefit from “stage one.” Hong Kong will know we stand with freedom. Beijing will recall Ronald Reagan.
We Americans have it in us to lead. We should not shy from doing so. Reagan never did. This is a chance for President Trump to take that torch of liberty forward – for all of us.