Protests in Hong Kong have continued for the past four months as residents call for the withdrawal of an extradition bill, release of political prisoners and an independent investigation into the use of force during the protest.
The Chinese government has blamed the protests on outside influences, including the United States, and have utilized a wide variety of methods to curb their impact, from cyberattacks to censorship. Beijing has stopped short of a military intervention, although in early August hundreds military vehicles were seen in Shenzen Bay, signaling a possible invasion, according to multiple international media outlets.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday that a hardening stance from the Chinese government would be a “grave miscalculation.”
“Hugh, I will reiterate now, as I have over the last three weeks, that it would be a grave miscalculation of historic proportion for Beijing to crack down on Hong Kong, to invade Hong Kong territory with the People’s Armed Police, or to declare martial law that would require a fundamental reassessment of our relationship with the People’s Republic of China,” he said. “I’m glad to see so many other of my peers in Congress have come around and stated this view publicly as well. And increasingly, we get indications from the administration, too.”
President Donald Trump’s administration administration continues to discuss a potential trade deal with Xi Jinping, president of the People’s Republic of China. The two countries have been engaged in a “trade war” for more than a year, with the U.S. and China raising tariffs on imported goods. Trump has said that a show of Chinese force in Hong Kong could jeopardize the deal.
“Our administration will continue to urge Beijing to act in a humanitarian manner and urge China and the demonstrators in Hong Kong to resolve their differences peacefully,” Vice President Mike Pence said Pence in an address at the Detroit Economic Club on Monday.
Protesters clashed with Hong Kong police at a sit-in at a train station on Monday, according to NBC News. They were marking the one-month anniversary of a July incident where mobs linked to organized crime attacked protesters.
“I’m not seeing any publicly-available evidence that Beijing is trying to deescalate the tension in Hong Kong,” Cotton said. “Now to be fair, we haven’t seen any publicly-available evidence that they are beginning to exert physical force against the protesters. There’s been some evidence that they are using subterfuge, espionage, cyberattacks to undercut the protesters, but as you saw over the weekend, that certainly did nothing to deter the huge protests on Hong Kong Island.
“I think probably one of the key red lines for Xi Jinping and Beijing is whether these protests gain any kind of traction and begin to be replicated on any kind of scale on the mainland.”
Hewitt noted that 400,000 Chinese students are currently being educated in the United States, and asked Cotton if they would face expulsion as a consequence of a military intervention by China in Hong Kong.
“A large number of them could, Hugh,” Cotton said. “And frankly, this is a step we should have taken long ago. Look, I am sure there are many fine, upstanding, young students from China who came here because they want to get a good education at world-class university. Let’s not be naïve. A large number of them are also the children of, or affiliated with Chinese Communist Party officials and People’s Liberation Army officials.
“There are reasons that they are going to universities that are affiliated with national laboratories or that have large Department of Defense presences. If they want to come to small liberal arts colleges to study the Western canon, to understand why liberal democracy is the best form of government that we’ve ever invented, that’s one thing. If they want to go to a university that has large DOD presence to study quantum mechanics, that’s another thing.”
Cotton also suggested changing the Hong Kong Policy Act, reconsidering visas provided to senior-level Chinese officials and halting trade talks if Beijing imposes martial law in Hong Kong.
“These are the kind of steps, these are the kind of steps that we ought to have taken after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 when the geopolitical situation had changed so much from the initial opening to China in the 1970s,” he said.