China is proposing a “national security” law that is sparking protests across Hong Kong. Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, joins the podcast to discuss what is at stake with this proposed law, how it would effectively nullify the “one country, two systems” model between Hong Kong and China if enacted, how it would hamper Hong Kong’s presence as a global financial center, and more. Read the lightly edited transcript, pasted below, or listen to the interview:
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Rachel del Guidice: I am joined today on The Daily Signal Podcast by Mike Gonzalez. He’s a senior fellow in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation. Mike, it’s great to have you on The Daily Signal Podcast.
Mike Gonzalez: Rachel, it’s my pleasure to be on with you once again.
Del Guidice: Well, thank you for being with us. We love having you on.
China is proposing a new so-called national security law that is sparking protests across Hong Kong. Can we get started with talking about what is proposed in this law, what’s at stake, and what this law would do?
Gonzalez: Yes. … The law, which is going to be introduced in the National People’s Congress, which is the Chinese rubber-stamp legislature, which does whatever the Communist Party tells it to do, will enact this law—which will take effect right away, by the way. …
The Hong Kong Legislative Council, which is partly democratically elected, will not vote on it. China will just promulgate the law in Hong Kong, breaking China’s promise.
But what it does is that it will ban sedition, secession, subversion, or foreign interference.
These are all things that are very elastic and they’re that way for a reason, because China will be able to just drive huge Mack PLA trucks, speaking allegorically, through these labels.
So, in effect, this could very well be the end of the rule of law in Hong Kong, but more important than that, it would be the end of Hong Kongers ruling themselves in most matters in the one country, two system model that China promised the world—not just Hong Kong, the world—in an international treaty entered into the United Nations that it was going to respect for Hong Kong for 50 years
Del Guidice: Mike, you of course lived in Hong Kong for a long time. What have you been hearing from folks there about this proposed law?
Gonzalez: Yeah, so I lived in Hong Kong under two British governors and two Chinese chief executives. I lived there eight years all told, four times. … They’re very upset, the Chinese people in Hong Kong that I talked to, Hong Kongers.
By the way, just so people understand, Hong Kong is 99% Chinese. It is an international city where there are many expats living there, many Americans, many American companies based there, but it is a city that’s overwhelmingly Chinese.
They’re very friendly to the United States. It’s a completely capitalist place, free market. It’s succeeded because it practices free market. We used to call it a capitalist theme park. …
The Chinese there, the Hong Kongers, are very, very upset about what is going to happen to them. They understand that China is breaking its word, that China gave this promise and now they’re not only going to live [up to it.]
We had Dennis Kwok the other day in a podcast, in a webinar, and he said, “It is chilling and terrifying to me that one day a Mandarin-speaking mainland official could just break into my house and take me and my family, arrest all of us.”
Obviously, the people in Hong Kong do not speak Mandarin. They speak Cantonese. And so, what he means by that is he means a mainland official.
Del Guidice: Some are saying that this legislation, if it’s enacted, would nullify this system’s model between Hong Kong and China, which refers to how long Hong Kong has had a different status other than other Chinese cities. What is your perspective on this thought?
Gonzalez: Yeah, no, I think it very well could because … China has no rule of law. China, the mainland China, where it’s a large country—when we think of China, we think of China and 1.4 billion people ruled by the Communist Party—does not have the rule of law.
People are put away and into dungeons all the time. There are many examples, Liu Xiaobo, who won a Nobel prize, was thrown in prison because he spoke against the government. Many, many people—Uighurs, they have created Uighur concentration camps.
Uighurs are the Turkic-speaking Muslim religion minority that lives in western China and they have been persecuted for a very long time. And for the last few years, China has just created these concentration camps. So, that’s the reality in China.
The reality in Hong Kong is very different. It’s a free marketplace where human rights are respected, where you have property rights, where you have freedom of speech, where you have freedom of conscious. You have all these natural rights that are respected, even though it’s not fully a democracy.
So that is why the Hong Kong people are so scared that something similar could happen to them.
Del Guidice: CNBC has talked about this proposed national security law for Hong Kong saying that it’s terrible news for pro-democracy activists. You alluded to this in the beginning, but can you talk more about why and is this the case for pro-democracy efforts?
Gonzalez: So what the local Hong Kong people, what the pro-democracy local Hong Kong people want to do is expand their rights. They want to have more people elected to the legislative council. They want to be able to elect their own chief executive.
These are steps that in no way should threaten China. China promised to allow Hong Kong to have a “high degree of autonomy” until 2047. It took over when Britain handed over the territory in 1997.
Hong Kong was created through British rule of law and the ingenuity and hard work of the local population. It was a perfect marriage.
Now they’re seeing what was started in the middle of the 19th century, there’s a very real risk that it could end and Hong Kong could become like any other city in the mainland where human rights are not respected, where people get thrown into prison, they’re not able to speak their mind, they’re not able to choose a religion they follow.
They’re not able to choose any religion, really, except for state-sanctioned ones that are not really religion. So, this is a very, very bad situation for Hong Kong people.
I should tell you, by the way, that many people on the Hill are considering right now allowing Hong Kong people to immigrate to the United States and asking for a coalition of other free democracies in the world to open their doors to the people of Hong Kong.
There are not very many. There’s 8 million people in Hong Kong. They’re industrious. They’re hardworking. They have the norms that we have in the free world, … from Australia or Chile, or any country in Europe or Canada or India. So, they would make very good citizens in France, in Germany, in the U.K., or here.
Del Guidice: Do you think that will gain any traction on the Hill? Where do you see from a policy perspective the opportunity there, if that were to gain momentum?
Gonzalez: Yeah. … I think right now it’s at the conceptual level. They’re going to try to write the legislature stating this.
There’s also a big push not to certify China, especially, something called the Hong Kong Democracy Act, which requires the secretary of state to certify Hong Kong as indeed being different from China.
Right now, we don’t hit Hong Kong products with any of the tariffs that we hit Chinese products with. We do not.
We sell to Hong Kong sensitive equipment that we would never export to China, like dual-use technology that can be used in the military because Hong Kong really does have very good export controls. So when we sell things to Hong Kong, we know they’re not going to find … a way to mainland China.
However, if Hong Kong becomes just another city in China, no different from Canton or Shenzhen or Shanghai or Beijing, then really, Hong Kong should not benefit from … being seen as exclusive or … its products not being exempt from tariffs, or any of these exemptions.
So, there’s a big push, and national security adviser [Robert] O’Brien already said he didn’t see how Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo could certify Hong Kong if this law passes.
Del Guidice: CNN has reported that … protesters were asked to gather outside of the Legislative Council early on Wednesday in an attempt to repeat the success that they had last year when they managed to prevent legislators from debating an extradition bill in China, which was eventually withdrawn.
So, Mike, do you think that protesters could potentially have the same level of success they had last year with that extradition bill?
Gonzalez: Yeah, see, I don’t see how, because the law that is so threatening the Hong Kong way of life and the life of the people of Hong Kong is going to be considered and debated, if you can call it that, in Beijing at the NPC, at the National People’s Congress, which, again, is the rubber-stamp legislature for the ruling communist clique in China.
So, the action will take place in China, which is further offense. I mean, it’s just one more offense among many, so I don’t see how the people of Hong Kong can stop anything.
I want to say a word here, by the way, for your listeners who are wondering, “Why should I care about 8 million people in a city half the world away?”
There are many things at work here. First of all, we should care. We should stand up for freedom and democracy whenever we can, but there’s 1,200 U.S. companies doing business in Hong Kong. Over 800 of them have their regional offices or headquarters in Hong Kong. This is a huge asset to United States. Many IPOs, many of China’s IPOs are done through Hong Kong.
It’s also a matter [of], we’re asking ourselves, we’re living through COVID-19, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
We know very well that China first hid the truth about the virus. Then it tried to spread disinformation saying that it was the U.S. Army that originated the virus, which is a vile form of disinformation.
So, the question right now is we have this very large country, which is a very large part of the world [gross domestic product] and a big trader with us—can we really trust China?
And many people in the United States right now and our government are … asking themselves this question and saying, “No. No, we can’t.”
And if China does this to Hong Kong, then it’s proven without a shadow of a doubt that the word of the Chinese Communist Party that is the leadership of China—Xi Jinping is the president of China, but his really important title, he’s the head of the Chinese Communist Party. That’s the reason he rules in China.
If he violates China’s word, the word that Deng Xiaoping, one of his predecessors, gave, then we cannot trust him or the government of the People’s Republic of China.
… I’m not talking about the Chinese people here. The Chinese people in many ways are the victims of their own government.
We have the problems that we have with the government of the PRC because it violates the dignity of the Chinese people, just as it is doing now with the people of Hong Kong. So, this is a very important matter to American listeners.
Del Guidice: Mike, you actually just hit on a big part of my next question, which is, as you mentioned, Hong Kong is a huge global financial center, how could this so-called national security law directly hamper their influence? And you mentioned that those 800 or so companies that do have headquarters there. What are the practical implications of this?
Gonzalez: The practical implications? Well, we know, as I said, a lot of the trade that we do with China … By the way, China’s direct investment in the mainland, 60% of it goes through Hong Kong—60% of their world direct investment goes through Hong Kong.
We know that they invest here in the U.S., they invest all over the world, so we’re talking about a giant investor and a giant trader which is really cutting off his nose to spite its own face.
Our companies, Walmart, for example, which does billions in trade with China, our other companies that do so much trade with China, if this happens and China begins to unravel because it’s really just hurt itself out of political peak, then down the line we will really consider China an adversary.
But, I mean, what do we have with an adversary that has wounded itself? … It will add a big risk factor to all the other risk factors that we have with the PRC.
Del Guidice: Mike, if this law does pass, what could happen next? Does this have implications for other things China is pursuing even on the international stage?
Gonzalez: Well, the Daily Mail had an article a couple hours ago, I think, saying that China had moved two aircraft carriers just off Taiwan. A very erratic China will give us … I mean, we need the sea lanes. We need to move our goods, to import oil, and we have to make sure that the seas are open.
If China now just is going to begin to act this way with Hong Kong, moving two new aircraft carriers into war games near Taiwan, it adds another level of instability to the world that we don’t need at the moment. …
By the way, … there’s another very large democracy, India, and there’s been a lot of border skirmishes. There’s a very long border between China and India and there have been a lot of skirmishes reported on the border between China and India in the last two weeks.
So, … it’s not just Hong Kong. It’s not just Taiwan. It’s also India. I think the democracies need to get together and say, “What do we do with a nation that could become rogue?”
I truly hope that the National People’s Congress does not act this way, does not pass this law that, that wiser heads prevail in Beijing.
Del Guidice: National security adviser Robert O’Brien suggested that the U.S. might consider sanctions against China if it does go forward with this law. Do you think that’s a wise course and how should the U.S. and other Western nations respond to this?
Gonzalez: The reality of it, other than jawboning, other than in speaking constantly and calling out this behavior, the Communist Party of China will do what it wants because … it doesn’t need to seek the consent of the governed. It does not. There are no checks and balances. It really is the rule of one man, Xi Jinping, over 1.4 billion people.
… You keep hearing that he’s becoming more and more unpopular within the Politburo—the 14 aging communists who make the major political decisions for the Communist Party.
If there are people within the Politburo that begin to say to President Xi, “Well, listen, … the most important relationship to us is a relationship with the United States. We’re an emerging power and you have put us at risk here”—if that is true, that that kind of activity is taking place … this could change things, but that is all happening just outside Tiananmen Square in the middle of Beijing.
We’re limited. Other than using our bully pulpit and using passing laws … If we do, for example, pass a law that allows people in Hong Kong to immigrate to the United States or to immigrate to France or to Italy or Germany, that would be a huge loss of face, a great source of embarrassment for Xi Jinping to have something like the Freedom Fights that Fidel Castro had in Cuba, people escaping. …
China wants to be thought of as a good, a safe world player. It doesn’t want to be thought of this way. And so hopefully, the criticism that it is receiving from all quarters will begin to have some impact.
Del Guidice: Lastly, Mike, … if you could tell something to those who are in Hong Kong protesting this so-called national security law, what is your message to them?
Gonzalez: Obviously, to remain peaceful. They can become their own worst enemies if they begin to act in a violent way. They will lose support.
If the protesters begin to destroy property or hurt people, that is not something that’s going to gain them any support in the West.
In fact, it has happened in the past when some protesters, a very small minority, but that matters, go over the line and create chaos. Nobody likes anarchy. Right now the people of Hong Kong really do have the support of the American people and the administration.
Secretary Pompeo, Vice President [Mike] Pence, and President [Donald] Trump have all been very strong, very strong in their support for the people, in expressing their support for the people of Hong Kong.
In fact, Mike Pompeo, Secretary Pompeo, on Friday issued a statement that ended saying, “We are with the people of Hong Kong.” They cannot abdicate that by being violent.
Del Guidice: Well, Mike, thank you so much for unpacking what’s going on in Hong Kong for us and for joining us on The Daily Signal Podcast.
Gonzalez: Thank you.