There’s a clear way to strike back at China for passing a national security law that violated the civil rights of Hong Kong people: give Hong Kongers a path to citizenship in the US.
The brain drain that would ensue could very well leave Hong Kong — a city of well-educated, democratically-oriented people — unrecognizable to Beijing. And once the coronavirus pandemic is over, the US will need all the labor it can get to strengthen its economy again.
Not to mention that offering Hong Kongers refuge from an authoritarian regime encroaching on their human rights is in line with American values at their very best. It’s the right thing to do.
Over in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is calling for a similar deal for Hong Kong people. But his plan stands on the fact that China violated its Hong Kong handover agreement with the UK. Back in 1997, when Hong Kong was returned to China as a territory, the Chinese Communist Party promised to political autonomy to Hong Kong for 50 years.
China’s Hong Kong security act violates that promise. It makes civil disobedience a crime for which Hong Kongers could be guilty even outside the country. Already people have been arrested for things like carrying Hong Kong independence flags in their bags, and there’s a fear that the Chinese government could start retroactively charging people for past political activity. People have every right to be scared.
Some Hong Kongers, born before the handover, have a British National Overseas Passport and the Johnson government has said these will be used a vehicle to bring them and their families to the UK. But there is an entire generation of Hong Kong people who do not have that status for a variety of reasons, and they should have options too.
Beyond just the UK, countries including Austrailia and Taiwan have said they plan to open their doors to Hong Kongers looking to leave the island. It’s obvious that the US should follow suit, but sadly, that’s not likely.
The authoritarian click
It’s hard to imagine Hong Kong being the same destination for finance road shows and business conferences it once was under this new law. For one thing, the law makes conspiring with foreigners a crime — what that means in practice is something I personally would not venture to test.
It’s also hard, though, to imagine President Donald Trump doing something as devastating to Beijing as causing a massive brain drain in Hong Kong. In general, his actions against China’s human rights violations have been pithy at best.
As I wrote last month, it’s time to stop pretending he’s tough on China. All he still wants is a trade deal to wave in front of his base as a victory. Aside from that, as former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s book illustrated, Trump sees common cause with Chinese President Xi Jinping. They share a simple, inherent ideology — that their will should be imposed on the people. Trump sees it as strength. Xi, having lived through the days of Chairman Mao, sees it as survival.
That’s one reason Trump is unlikely to get on board with this Hong Kong immigration idea. The other is that he hates immigration in general.
Back in 2017 the Trump administration tried to sell the idea that it only wanted skilled immigrants to come to the US, now it’s abandoned that pretense. Instead, as Catherine Rampell over at the Washington Post reported, the administration has literally slowed down the printing of immigration papers to slow immigration, skilled or unskilled, and turn legal immigrants into undocumented ones.
The pandemic has accelerated these anti-immigration plans. In late June, Trump signed an executive order to freeze the issuance of a variety of work visas including H1-Bs. And the administration even tried to boot out international college students if their college went online-only, a truly absurd move that was quickly reversed.
Trump’s policies have never been about legal or illegal immigration, they were never about having skill or not having skill. It’s always been about bigotry against immigrants. That calculus won’t change no matter how dire the situation is for Hong Kong people, and it means here in the US we’ll miss a golden opportunity to be the land of opportunity, and boost both democracy and our economy in one fell swoop.