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Will Hong Kong go the way of Xinjiang?

Will Hong Kong go the way of Xinjiang?
© Getty Images

Last weekend, the government of Hong Kong issued a warrant for the arrest of an American pro-democracy activist, the latest symptom of worsening relations between China and America. The move was not a surprise. A month ago, China enacted a new security law in Hong Kong and arrested thousands of law-abiding residents. Since then, Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping have circled one another, trading barbs over control of the hotly contested South China Sea, disputing American sanctions of Chinese officials involved in the gross abuses of human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and shutting down consulates on both sides of the Pacific. But these measures do not go far enough.

The U.S. needs to act now and prevent Hong Kong from becoming another human rights disaster.

We looked the other way when Buddhist and Taoist temples and statues, along with mosques and churches, were damaged or destroyed, and religious leaders were jailed, all at the direction of the Chinese government. We stood idly by as they infringed upon the territory of other sovereign states, including U.S. allies like Japan and Taiwan. We have largely tolerated their massive, systemic disregard for the freedom of the press. We were willing to forgive, forget, or ignore all of those transgressions and many more for the sake of our economy, but we have now come to a breaking point.

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Bizarrely, despite all of this, U.S.-China trade has remained stable. Economic interdependence seems to be the one thing that brings the two countries together. This inaction represents a continued, willful complacency motivated by greed. China represents one of the largest boons to the American economy: as our largest trading partner, America’s exports to China create nearly a million American jobs. So, countless presidents, CEOs, and other American leaders have looked the other way as China bullied its neighbors and imprisoned its citizens.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpPolice say man dangling off Trump Tower Chicago demanding to speak with Trump Fauci says he was 'absolutely not' surprised Trump got coronavirus after Rose Garden event Biden: Trump 'continues to lie to us' about coronavirus MORE and Congress must put an end to their complacency. Within the last year, Beijing banned the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party. Pro-democracy candidates were disqualified from elections and even arrested. Since the passage of the new security law, free speech, free press, and free assembly have all collapsed.

And it is not just Hong Kong. In the country’s northwestern Xinjiang province, Chinese security officials have detained over 1 million Uyghur Muslims under inhumane conditions, including measures such as forced labor and probable organ harvesting. Outside of these camps, around 11 million Uyghurs living in Xinjiang have continued to suffer from a decades-long crackdown by the CCP.

Regardless of the economic impacts, it is time to draw a line in the sand and declare that we cannot pursue prosperity at the expense of human dignity.

President Trump should impose new, sweeping sanctions and tariffs on China as a whole rather than a select few officials and companies. We would not be alone: the U.S., alongside seven other countries, recently formed an alliance to counter the threat China poses to global trade, security, and human rights — and some, including Australia, have already retaliated against China’s overreach with economic sanctions. In the course of this presidency, the United States has sanctioned Turkey, Iran, and Russia; why should China be any different? These measures are forceful, but they are worth pursuing.

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Sanctions could force conversations about human rights, military behavior, espionage, and intellectual property to move forward. This last goal is one that even the most nationalistic American pundits can get behind: Chinese theft of American IP currently costs between $225 billion and $600 billion annually — roughly 2.6 percent of the annual U.S. GDP — in what has been described as one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history. These practices seriously hurt companies operating in the marketplace of ideas.

These measures are more aggressive than anything we’ve done in years. China likely predicted the sanctioning of officials and consulate closures in response to their premature overreach in Hong Kong and accepted the consequences.

China’s leaders clearly believe there will not be any greater economic consequences in the midst of a global pandemic. They are fortifying Hong Kong’s ability to participate in global commerce even as they suppress free speech, arrest thousands, and punish leaders who support the right to peacefully protest. After all, the United States looked the other way (or, rather, elsewhere) for half a century of transgressions — they can probably get away with half a century more. President Trump should prove them wrong.

Bilal Baloch is the Co-Founder and COO of GlobalWonks. He is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Johns Hopkins SAIS Foreign Policy Institute. Follow him on Twitter @bilalabaloch