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Why the U.S. Should Stay Quiet About Hong Kong

There are few governments less likely to respond well to U.S. statements about its internal affairs than the Chinese government.

As if on cue, the Post demands that Obama “send a message” to China about the protests in Hong Kong:

Beijing, however, has not acted yet; police in Hong Kong backed off on Monday and Tuesday after their use of tear gas over the weekend brought more people to the streets [bold mine-DL]. Chinese authorities probably are weighing the risks of allowing the street occupations to continue against those of initiating a crackdown. That makes this a crucial moment for the United States to send a clear message to Mr. Xi: that repression is unacceptable and will damage China’s relations with the democratic world.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s response so far has been gallingly timid.

In other words, the situation might still be resolved peacefully, so now is the time for Americans to start meddling. This is exactly the sort of tense, potentially explosive situation in another country that the administration shouldn’t be talking about publicly. It would be appropriate for the administration to convey its concerns to Beijing through diplomatic channels, and perhaps they have already been doing this, but there is absolutely no need for public declarations or “explicit support” for the protesters. How could that benefit the protesters? The Post doesn’t even pretend that it would. As ever, the desire to have our government “speak out” in support of foreign protesters trumps all other considerations. It’s not as if Beijing will react well to be warned by Washington about how it conducts its own affairs. We know very well that the Chinese government reacts angrily to any hint of foreign interference in their internal politics. Indeed, there are few governments in the world less likely to respond well to statements from U.S. officials about its internal affairs than the Chinese government.

“Sending a message” publicly could expose the protesters to more charges of working for foreign powers. It could make them even easier targets for nationalist hostility. It could make the authorities less inclined to back down from confrontation if they think that by doing so they will appear to be caving in to foreign demands. If the U.S. is to do anything in response to these protests, it must not say or do anything that would offer Chinese authorities even the slightest pretext for a crackdown. If that means that U.S. officials refrain from offering self-indulgent commentary on the protests, then that is what ought to be done.



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