In today’s Senate Session, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., delivered a resounding speech on the Senate floor where he called vociferously for the application of global Magnitsky sanctions “on individuals and business entities that abet Beijing and its oppression of the freedoms of speech and assembly that rightfully belong to the people of Hong Kong.” He also offered a full-throated and much needed condemnation of American corporations that continue to bend the knee to Beijing out of fear of losing their market shares in the Chinese market.
Earlier this month, Sen. Hawley traveled to Hong Kong, where protests have been percolating for nearly 20 weeks as result of an extradition bill Hong Kong authorities proposed in response to pressure from mainland China. The bill, formally withdrawn earlier today by Hong Kong’s legislature, would have allowed for Beijing to adjudicate criminal disputes between Hong Kong citizens by allowing for the extradition of criminal suspects to regions with which Hong Kong does not currently have extradition treaties, including mainland China, Taiwan, and Macau.
Though Hong Kong is under the sovereignty of Beijing, it is entirely unique in that it possesses its own customs territory, separate from China, as well as its own economic infrastructure. While Hong Kong remained under British rule intermittently for roughly a century and a half, the United Kingdom forfeited final control of the city to China in 1997.
Hawley’s speech offered a loud condemnation of what he alleged to be Hong Kong’s slide towards totalitarianism under the auspices (and urging) of the Chinese government. Indeed, many demonstrators in Hong Kong have begun to see the city leader Carrie Lam, favored by the Chinese government during Hong Kong’s 2017 Chief Executive elections, as ultimately a “puppet” of Beijing.
“Hong Kong is sliding towards becoming a police state… Make no mistake, Beijing wants to impose its will on Hong Kong.” Hawley likened China’s desire to pressure Hong Kong into submission to its larger expansionist aims. “[Beijing] wants to steamroll Hong Kong, just as it wants to steamroll all of its neighbors in the region, just as it wants to control the region, and just as it wants ultimately to control the entire international system.”
Hawley details China’s tactics in the United States as evidence of Beijing’s nefarious aims, citing “stolen” American jobs and technology, and reaching the conclusion that Beijing’s goals “are not compatible with the security or the prosperity of this country.”
Hawley describes the political events that preceded the protests, listing the various “rights” once promised to the people of Hong Kong in 1984 by the Chinese government but now placed in steep jeopardy, rights many of us would recognize as fundamental to our conception of Western democracy – the right to assemble, the right to peaceful protest, the right to choose one’s own government. Hawley understands the protesters as individuals “seeking to vindicate their rights.”
Hawley detailed attempts on the part of the Hong Kong government to silence the protests, which Hawley alleges are “no doubt” coming from Beijing. Proposed measures have included the possible instatement of a curfew, as well as the denial of the right of protesters to cover their faces, which otherwise would have allowed protesters to maintain some anonymity, despite the surveillance capabilities of the Chinese state.
Some demonstrators have referred to the protests as the “Water Movement,” a tribute to Hong Kong’s own Brue Lee, who once stated, “Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it.” Hawley commends the protesters for matching this description, emphasizing that “their courage and bravery under pressure is really something to behold.” Indeed, he identifies their resolve as an “inspiration,” and their “love of liberty” as “something really extraordinary.”
Hawley isn’t shy about making a larger philosophical statement on modern democracy. “We strive for democracy because democracy strives for freedom and equality and universal love.” He continues by defining the parameters of political liberty. “Political freedom is more than loyalty to a state. Political freedom professes human dignity.” Hawley rousingly declares, “It is time to stand with the people of Hong Kong and send a signal to the world that the United States will stand with freedom-loving peoples.”
However, undoubtedly, the most climactic portion of Hawley’s speech was his condemnation of American multi-national corporations that have bowed down to Beijing for the sake of retaining their outsized stakes in the Chinese market, as we’ve witnessed in a sort of catatonic awe over the past several weeks. He unabashedly frames portions of his criticism in the second-person.
“I would just say to those corporations doing business in China, to those multinational corporate entities and organizations like the NBA that it is time for you to take a stand as well. It is time for you show a little backbone…You may be multinational corporations who do business everywhere in the world, but remember that you are based here in this country…These companies need to remember that they are American entities, and time to show a little American independence.”
Hawley pulls no punches in warning corporations to resist becoming “part of the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda arm.” Indeed, his clarity on this matter offers a refreshing response to the otherwise intellectually jumbled defenses offered by those in the NBA, which range from outright dismissal of legitimate concerns relating to Chinese repression to cheap claims of moral relativism.
Hawley’s speech, though hovering around a mere fifteen minutes, traces the intricacies of the Hong Kong protests, intimately conveying the desires of said protesters in a language freedom-lovers of the West can readily understand. He identifies the unique ideological kinship that unites Americans and Hong Kongers, despite the two populations being separated by several continents.
To those in the NBA who have assured us America isn’t so great, it seems Hawley, paraphrasing our nation’s sixth president John Quincy Adams, may have a message. “Wherever the standard of freedom is unfurled, there will be America’s prayers. There will be America’s benedictions. There will be America’s heart. And today, Mr. President, there needs to be America’s voice.”
Despite the hopelessness of the political fracas that has dominated our news cycle, Hawley’s speech serves as a stunning reminder of all that makes America truly and wonderfully exceptional.