President Donald Trump will soon have to make some hard choices when it comes to China. And while allowing more immigration might go against his instincts, it would be the best way to punish China for its actions against Hong Kong.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Wednesday certified that Hong Kong no longer warrants special treatment under U.S. law. It has enjoyed that status since 1997, when China agreed to respect the territory’s autonomy and liberal system of courts and elections for 50 years.
The certification, required under a law passed last year in response to China’s crackdown in Hong Kong, followed Beijing’s announcement that it would unilaterally impose a national security law on the city-state.
Pompeo on Wednesday correctly described the planned imposition of the law as the latest in a series of steps the Chinese Communist Party has taken that undermine the U.N.-recognized treaty it signed more than three decades ago. "While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China," his statement reads, "it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself."
The ball is now in Trump’s court.
Pompeo’s certification is only a recommendation. Now the president will have to decide whether to revoke the special trade status that Hong Kong has enjoyed since 1997, trade benefits that do not apply to mainland China. These include an expedited visa process for Hong Kongers, fewer restrictions on the U.S. export of dual-use items and exemptions from tariffs Trump has imposed on Beijing.
All of these measures are now on the table, administration officials tell me, as the president decides how to respond.
Revoking U.S. benefits for Hong Kong is warranted.
The city-state has become a cash cow for Beijing. After abrogating its commitments to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy, China should pay a heavy price. At the same time, such a move would also punish Hong Kongers who have shown remarkable resilience over the last year as China has encroached on their freedoms.
So Trump should consider a second policy as well: Offer Hong Kong’s citizens who do not wish to live in a totalitarian state an opportunity to become Americans. This is on a list of options for Trump, but it will be a tough sell for a man who won the presidency with a promise to build a wall to keep out immigrants.
If Trump can leave aside his nativism — again, there is little evidence that he can — he just might see that an open door for Hong Kong’s people has several benefits.
One, it would be a way to punish the Chinese Communist Party, creating the conditions for a brain drain. All of the financial and creative genius that has prospered in Hong Kong’s open society will now have an incentive to leave. China’s leaders may think that they can get away with their assault on Hong Kong during the coronavirus pandemic, but the flight of their most talented citizens would impoverish the regime in the long run.
An open door to Hong Kongers would also be a boon for the U.S. Just because Trump fails to appreciate or acknowledge the great contributions immigrant entrepreneurs have made to the U.S. economy, does not mean those contributions don’t exist. Hong Kong is one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and the U.S. has a chance to benefit from the human capital that created that wealth.
Finally, an open door could help repair America’s image as a refuge from despotism.
In the Trump years, it’s easy to forget that many oppressed and subjugated people around the world still look to the U.S. with hope. They see the founding ideals of America’s revolution as a promise to emulate. To them, those ideals (to borrow a phrase) make America great.
The crisis in Hong Kong is an opportunity for Trump to renew that promise.
Eli Lake is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun, and UPI. Read Eli Lake's Reports — More Here.
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