Thus far, the People’s Republic of China has dealt with minimal international blowback for its handling of the Hong Kong protests. Although most of the world is keenly aware of what has taking place there, the majority of governments, NGOs, and corporations have opted to turn a blind eye and await the return of the status quo. Beijing has continued to conduct business as usual with its allies, and trading partners as it tries to bring an end to the protests in the most non-violent, civil way possible. At least in the eyes of the world.
After yesterday, the blowback may not remain minimal for too much longer.
In Washington DC on Wednesday, President Trump signed legislation offering support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and authorizing sanctions against PRC government officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong. Trump’s move represents the first significant international opposition to China’s actions in Hong Kong that the government has faced.
Not surprisingly, Beijing was furious, and concerned. The anger stemmed from Washington’s u-turn after five months of silence as Hong Kong became a warzone in some regards. China’s Foreign Ministry cautioned the United States against acting expeditiously, and warned that any consequences would be on Washington’s shoulders. The Foreign Ministry also framed the US legislation as interference with China’s internal affairs, and a violation of international law, as well as a breach of international relations etiquette.
The consequences mentioned above are almost certainly reference to US attempts to negotiate a trade deal with China and bring an end to the simmering trade war between the two economic superpowers. Beijing will certainly be looking to use the US legislation to its advantage, however, it could be facing its own set of consequences as a result of Washington’s latest move. The US legislation potentially opens the door for more Western governments to throw their support behind the protesters in Hong Kong. If this scenario comes to life it will test the Chinese government’s ability to end the uprising in Hong Kong on its own terms.