Written by: Simon Fischer
Grabbing the attention of the entire foreign policy world can be a tough task, especially for a small Special Administrative Region like Hong Kong. However, they have made it look easy in recent months. The densely-populated city has taken to the streets this summer in protest of a deeply unpopular “extradition bill” that would have allowed Hong Kong’s government to pick up citizens and send them to mainland China to be detained. These protests have been successful so far, as they have forced Chief Executive Carrie Lam to withdraw the bill, but they continue to press for other demands, including full democracy and police accountability. They have also begun to tellingly invoke United States iconography within their campaign. Hong Kong protesters have begun to bear American flags at their marches, marched to the US consulate on September 8, and even sang the Star Spangled Banner. The people of Hong Kong have fought tooth and nail for months for democracy but have also realized that if they truly want to achieve their goals, they will need some sort of external help, and what better place to turn to than the United States?
Unfortunately, the administration in charge of the “beacon of the free world” has paid little to no attention to the Hong Kongers’ efforts. With a myriad of scandals, staff turnover and a looming reelection campaign, President Trump and his team have placed these protests near the bottom of their to-do list, and it shows. Even in the realm of foreign policy, President Trump seems to be more concerned with his self-inflicted problem with Iran and his futile attempt to purchase Greenland. When pressed about the issue by reporters, he has given relatively unenthusiastic responses. Last month, he said that “the Hong Kong thing is a very tough situation, very tough … We’ll see what happens.” He has also described their efforts as “riots” and said that China will “have to deal with that themselves.”
At the surface it seems surprising that the president does not show greater interest in this situation, and surely no one is more surprised than the protestors themselves. Yet, his disdain also falls in line with his scattershot foreign policy strategy. In his mind, the issue does not offer anything of value to him and the US, and showing support for the marches would only complicate trade deal negotiations with China. There have been no consistent motifs in the administration’s world strategy, only focusing on self-created problems that further the alternate narrative they have crafted for Trump. Therefore, despite their valiant cause and pleas for solidarity, the current administration has turned a blind eye to the Hong Kong demonstrations.
Hong Kong was under British control for nearly 150 years, only becoming a Chinese territory in 1997. As a result, they have been long exposed to the values of liberalized western politics. Attributes like free and fair democracy and civil liberties are in their blood. This part of their DNA has not meshed well with Beijing nor Hong Kong’s pro-China leader Lam but has been proudly displayed throughout their protests. As a nation that once fought for and won our independence from Britain, shouldn’t America be a bit more sympathetic to this movement? On top of that, the Hong Kong protestors have engaged in what is seemingly one of Trump’s favorite things, American patriotism. What more can they do to get his attention? Ultimately, the President may continue to ignore this growing crisis, but history may remember him more for his inaction in this situation than anything else.