US outrage over national security law for Hong Kong puts Donald Trump and China trade talks in an awkward spot
- New national security law could create economic and political risks for US multinational firms with operations in Hong Kong
- Trump faces a tough choice between securing a trade deal with China and heeding lawmakers’ calls to defend democratic freedoms
“These are difficult times for both our countries. It is important that we each continue to work to make our agreement a success,” the USTR said in a statement, while the US State Department was railing against the National People’s Congress move. A discordant note of optimism drowned in a chorus of opprobrium.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo must deliver his verdict soon on whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous to retain the different trading status Hong Kong has with the United States, compared with mainland China.
Tear gas fired as thousands protest Beijing’s planned national security law for Hong Kong
Anyone expecting drastic measures should take the USTR’s statement into account. Trump is often accused of policy inconsistency, and rightly so. But if we’re to find any shred of certainty about what he values in dealing with other countries, we can count on two: a deep respect for autocrats and their ability to buy US goods.
Need more evidence on where Trump stands on Beijing’s plan to unilaterally amend Hong Kong’s Basic Law? Pushed for a comment on Thursday on reports that the NPC’s announcement about the legislation was coming, he said: “I don't know what it is because nobody knows yet. If it happens we'll address that issue very strongly.”
What is the Basic Law of Hong Kong?
This must be a difficult time for Trump. With top officials at the State Department and many lawmakers in both parties enraged by Beijing’s apparent determination to ignore the will of Hong Kong’s people, Trump is facing a default instinct that cuts across party lines.
Washington has a history of hypocrisy when it comes to defending democratic freedoms abroad – that is, it will step up for them as long as they don’t impede commercial interests. Note that there were never any lasting repercussions for Trump’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Hong Kong democrats bash national security law from China’s two sessions, US also voices concern
When American multinationals have as much to fear as human rights activists, you can bet that Washington won’t back down. The question is whether Trump has enough power to tame Washington.
Robert Delaney is the Post’s North America bureau chief
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