Tensions continue to rise in Hong Kong as massive groups of pro-democracy protesters shut down an airport on Tuesday. The protesters have clashed with police while demonstrating against the Chinese government’s attempt to exert greater control over the quasi-independent region through an extradition law. Meanwhile, the Chinese government is saber-rattling over the protests and gathering military forces nearby in an apparent threat to extend greater authoritarian force.
It’s a fraught, complex and volatile situation demanding the world’s attention and, one might hope, the deft and strategic moral leadership of the United States government. Instead, of course, we have President Donald Trump.
Asked a few weeks ago if he supported the rights of protesters in Hong Kong, he gave a vague an unimpressive answer: “Well they are [protesting]. I don’t think China’s stopped them. China could stop them if they wanted. I’m not involved in it very much. I think President Xi of China has acted responsibly, very responsibly. They’ve been out there protesting for a long time. I’ve never seen protests like it where you have that many people, it looks like 2 million people. Those are big protests. But I hope that President Xi will do the right thing, but it has been going on for a long time there’s no question.”
He later called the protests “riots” — a contentious description with potential legal consequences in Hong Kong – and said, “Hong Kong is a part of China, they’ll have to deal with that themselves.”
On Tuesday, he tweeted:
As usual, China said they were going to be buying “big” from our great American Farmers. So far they have not done what they said. Maybe this will be different!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 13, 2019
Many are blaming me, and the United States, for the problems going on in Hong Kong. I can’t imagine why?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 13, 2019
While it’s not clear why Trump would be to blame, precisely, for the crisis in Hong Kong, it’s undoubtedly true that his rhetoric and posture as president has served to empower autocrats abroad. He frequently praises and embraces autocratic regimes while denigrating democratic allies, and under his watch, concern for human rights abroad has fallen off the American agenda.
And amid the chaos, an old quote from a Playboy interview with Trump in 1990 reveals his true disposition toward Chinese autocracy:
What were your other impressions of the Soviet Union?
I was very unimpressed. Their system is a disaster. What you will see there soon is a revolution; the signs are all there with the demonstrations and picketing. Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.
You mean firm hand as in China?
When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak … as being spit on by the rest of the world—
He has consistently signaled to the world that he views violent and oppressive governance as the strongest form of leadership. Thankfully, so far, American institutions have greatly limited his ability to enact his preferred form of government here. But he has no interest in crafting a foreign policy that increases the chances that other countries will respect human rights.
Trump aides desperately try to downplay ‘order’ to US companies to leave China
Donald Trump's top aides on Sunday downplayed the idea of US companies being forced to abandon China any time soon, as an edict from the president ordering businesses to start looking for alternatives has been met with skepticism.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economics advisor Larry Kudlow took to the airwaves from France, where Trump is participating in the G7 summit, to smooth out tensions in the business community prompted by Trump's Friday tweet.
Trump said he has "no plan now" to bring US companies in line, and his aides quickly reinforced the message.
Trump sparks confusion at G7 before doubling down on China tariffs
President Donald Trump doubled down Sunday on his hard line against China after sowing confusion with statements that he might be willing to soften a trade war G7 partners fear threatens the world economy.
At the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, Trump announced a major trade deal with Japan and promised more of the same with Britain, once Brexit is done.
But the positives were overshadowed by a mix-up over his apparent expression of regret for the latest escalation in the US-China dispute.
"I have second thoughts about everything," he conceded to reporters when asked if he regretted his decision on Friday to ramp up tariffs on all Chinese imports, worth some $550 billion, in retaliation for Beijing's earlier hike of levies on US goods.
Persecuted Christians eye long-sought freedom in Sudan
Sudan's Christians suffered decades of persecution under the regime of Islamist general Omar al-Bashir. Now they hope his downfall will give the religious freedom they have long prayed for.
Deep within the maze of dusty alleys that honeycomb Omdurman, Khartoum's sprawling twin city, Yousef Zamgila's church is not visible from the street.
It is hidden in the courtyard of a friend's home and consists of a few iron benches, a pulpit and crosses hastily painted on pillars holding a corrugated roof.
"The previous centre got destroyed because we didn't have the right papers. They always refused... So we use the land of our neighbours," says the Lutheran reverend.