He also criticised Nike and the NBA for siding with China after the Houston Rocket's general manager tweeted support for the protests.
The United States government “stands with” pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, US Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday in a wide-ranging speech that criticised Beijing, as well as Nike and the NBA for bowing to the “authoritarian regime”.
Hong Kong is a living example of what can happen “when China embraces liberty”, Pence said, amid continuing pro-democracy protests there against the city’s government and Beijing.
“To the millions in Hong Kong who have been peacefully demonstrating to protect your rights these past months, we stand with you,” he said in a speech hosted by the Wilson Centre in Washington. He did not mention the increasingly violent nature of clashes between protesters and the police, but urged demonstrators “to stay on the path of non-violent protest”.
Weighing into an international spat over an NBA team general manager’s expression of support for the protesters, Pence condemned players and executives of the basketball league who have sided with the Chinese government’s criticism of the sports executive.
The league was “acting like a wholly owned subsidiary of the authoritarian regime”, said Pence, who also condemned Nike for pulling Houston Rockets merchandise from Chinese stores in the wake of the comments from the team’s general manager, Daryl Morey.
“Nike promotes itself as a so-called social justice champion,” Pence said, “but when it comes to Hong Kong, it prefers checking its social conscience at the door.”
In a speech that criticised China on multiple fronts, including its human rights record, its actions in the South China Sea and its trade and economic practices, Pence said the US government sought neither to “decouple” with the country nor contain its economic development.
Thursday’s speech came amid rising pressure from US lawmakers seeking action from the Trump administration on a number of China-related fronts, including pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, religious freedom in Tibet and the internment of Muslims in the country’s northwest.
Hours after Pence spoke, US senators announced a new bipartisan bill that would prohibit American companies from selling munition equipment, including tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets, to Hong Kong authorities. Similar legislation, called the PROTECT Hong Kong Act, passed Congress’ lower chamber last week on a voice vote.
One of the objectives in Pence delivering the speech now, and why it walked such a careful line between hardline statements and accommodative language, analysts said, was a bid by the administration to ward off Senate approval of another, more high-profile bill sitting in Congress: the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.
That bill, passed by the House last week, would mandate an annual review of Hong Kong’s autonomy and subject Chinese officials to sanctions for any crackdown on protesters.
Trump is worried that passage of the legislation could further anger Beijing, undercutting hopes for a trade deal, they added. Some sort of agreement would allow him to claim a victory, which he badly needs amid impeachment pressure and growing criticism over his Syria policy as campaigning for the 2020 election heats up.