Following weeks of contentious Sino-U.S. relations, the South China Morning Post has reported that a policy recommendation report addressed to President Trump has urged him to “publicly call attention to the concerning trend of encroachment by Beijing on Hong Kong’s autonomy”. The report, which is the product of research by a task force at the Asia Society’s Center of U.S.-China Relations, recommends that Trump’s administration balance the U.S.’s commitment to economic and political security in Asia with its concern over violations of human rights and political freedoms in Hong Kong. Crucially, however, the report insists that Trump adhere to the U.S.’s “One China” policy in order to ensure the stability of Sino-U.S. relations moving forward.
The New York Times has now reported that Trump has in fact affirmed to President Xi Jinping over a phone call that the U.S. will honor the One China policy. Trump’s acquiescence should ameliorate ongoing tensions between the two nations, which quickly escalated when Trump accepted a protocol-breaking congratulatory phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai when he won the presidency in November.
Chinese state media also reported that the two leaders “agree[d] to boost win-win cooperation, and develop constructive China-U.S. ties”, as well as work together on issues as “economy and trade, science, energy, communications and global stability”.
Now that Trump has agreed to honor the One China policy, and thus made clear his intentions to maintain cordial, cooperative ties with Beijing, what does this mean for Hong Kong? Surely endorsing or supporting Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Tom Cotton’s Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act would provoke Xi’s ire. The critical question, as raised by the Asia Society’s policy report, remains: how can, and how will, Trump balance his Party’s commitment to preserving democracy in Hong Kong with his new interest in forging a mutually-beneficial political, economic, and social relationship with China?