Amid massive demonstrations in Hong Kong featuring the display of American flags and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, President Trump is suggesting that Chinese President Xi Jinping can resolve the conflict by meeting with the protesters.
Joshua Muravchick, author of “Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism,” thinks Trump is missing the point of the protests, which were prompted 10 weeks ago by a bill that would allow extradition of Hong Kong citizens to mainland China’s communist judicial system.
“I think he’s enormously underestimating the underlying issue here,” Muravchick said Thursday in an interview with the Fox Business Network’s Stuart Varney.
“This is not some misunderstanding that we can just sit down together and iron out. This is people who want freedom.”
In a follow-up tweet Thursday, Trump wrote: “If President Xi would meet directly and personally with the protesters, there would be a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem. I have no doubt!”
On Wednesday, the president wrote: “I know President Xi of China very well. He is a great leader who very much has the respect of his people. He is also a good man in a “tough business.” I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it. Personal meeting?”
The president clearly is focused on cutting a trade deal with Xi after negotiations broke off and the U.S implemented tariffs on goods from China that have thrust the two countries into a trade war.
Trump, consequently, has resisted pressure by some top aides, including National Security Adviser John Bolton, to back the Hong Kong protesters, according to officials who spoke to Politico.
China’s ambassador to London warned Thursday that the communist regime will use it power to quell the protests if the situation deteriorates, Reuters reported.
Liu Xiaoming told reporters “the central government will not sit on its hands and watch.”
“We have enough solutions and enough power within the limits of (the) Basic Law to quell any unrest swiftly,” Liu said, referring to the 1997 agreement allowing Hong Kong citizens to maintain liberties while under Beijing’s sovereignty. “Their moves are severe and violent offences, and already show signs of terrorism.”
Liu said the “central government of China will never allow a few violent offenders to drag Hong Kong down a dangerous road, down a dangerous abyss.”
Quashing freedom ‘piece-by-piece’
Muravchick – a descendent of Russian Jewish immigrants to America at the turn of the 20th century who were radical socialist activists – noted the terms under which the British handed over Hong Kong to Beijing in 1997.
“The deal was “one country-two systems,” he said. “Hong Kong was supposed to keep its freedom.”
But over the past 20 years, China “has piece-by-piece undermined and quashed that freedom.”
“The people of Hong Kong don’t want any part of it. They don’t want to live under Beijing’s rule,” said Muravchick, a senior fellow at the World Affairs Institute in Washington, D.C., and an adjunct professor at the Institute of World Politics.
Varney asked if the protesters can be “bought off,” noting Hong Kong authorities are offering a stimulus program that includes tax cuts, free rent, public housing and other benefits.
“I don’t think it’s going to get anywhere,” Muravchick replied. “These protests are led by young people. They are not thinking of their pocket books. They are thinking about what kind of lives they are going to have. Whether they can think what they want, say what they want, set the course of their own lives.”
Under Beijing’s rule, he pointed out, “it’s getting constantly more repressive, with the regime perfecting more and more technical means to spy on all the population.”
‘The symbol of freedom’
Varney commented that he was delighted and somewhat surprised to see the protesters holding American flags and singing the U.S. national anthem.
Muravchick said he also was delighted but “a little less surprised.”
“Even though we Americans tend to take our freedom for granted – and are filled with criticisms of our own country, and especially our politicians – around the world people still look at the United States as the symbol of freedom,” he said.
He recalled that in 1989, the student protesters in Tiananmen Square made a giant effigy of the Statue of Liberty.
On the front page of the Washington Post on Thursday morning, he said, was a drawing of the Statue of Liberty done by a prisoner in Syria.
The rest of the world, said Muravchick, “understands the big issue; the people want freedom, and America is the symbol of that freedom.”