President Donald Trump has no problem walking the walk on taking tough action on China over economic issues, as he labeled China a currency manipulator and sent the stock market reeling. But when it comes to sustaining America’s most powerful asset in the broader competition with China — democratic moral authority — the president seems reluctant to even talk the talk.
Beijing is signaling that a military invasion is possible against ongoing Hong Kong protests, which are expected to grow Friday with a demonstration planned at the international airport. Trump’s statements in response to the threat of this intervention undermined those taking to the streets to oppose Chinese authoritarianism, and departed dramatically from the best traditions of American foreign policy.
Unfortunately, as we have seen, despots tend to respond to American weakness or green lights with additional aggression and oppression.
“Something is probably happening with Hong Kong, because when you look at, you know, what’s going on, they’ve had riots for a long period of time,” Trump said last Thursday on the South Lawn of the White House when reporters asked about the possible Chinese military crackdown. “And I don’t know what China’s attitude is. Somebody said that at some point they’re going to want to stop that. But that’s between Hong Kong and that’s between China, because Hong Kong is a part of China. They’ll have to deal with that themselves. They don’t need advice.”
Something is happening, indeed. The people of Hong Kong are standing up to an authoritarian bully in a courageous effort to secure their inalienable rights — and acting indifferent to their plight is both immoral and reckless.