(Originally published here on December 21, 2020 by the South China Morning Post.)
US Senator Ted Cruz’s heart has bled so profusely for those suffering under the wrath of a Hong Kong government unable and unwilling to address demands for democratic reform that most of us eventually had to tune out the drama like it was a tweet from Donald Trump about rigged elections.
Even before the Chinese government foisted its national security law on Hong Kong and gave the city’s forever-Beijing-friendly chief executive the power to disqualify lawmakers not sufficiently loyal to the Chinese Communist Party with the stroke of a pen, Cruz was part of an anti-China roadshow that shrieked about the “enslavement of the Chinese people”.
So enamoured was he with the power of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement that he took it upon himself to travel to the city last year. Dressed in black in a gesture of solidarity with the opposition, he intoned: “A protester has power that makes the dictatorship tremble.”
Cajoling the world to support the brave American-flag wavers in Hong Kong seemed to be one of Cruz’s most passionate causes, until it wasn’t.
On Friday, Cruz blocked legislation that would have given Hong Kong dissidents special refugee status by arguing that Beijing would exploit relaxed immigration standards to send spies to the US.
By this logic, America should have never allowed in refugees from Cuba, Vietnam, or China after its bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989.
And the reasoning was especially rich, coming amid news of a massive hack that compromised parts of the US government, one that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence said was “significant and ongoing”.
Given the magnitude of this breach, concern that opposition lawmakers and demonstrators from Hong Kong would be a threat to American national security is kind of like fretting about too much dust in a house overrun with roaches and rats.
Anyone who has watched the twisting of Cruz’s Republican Party – from a guard post of free trade and the post-WWII global order into an isolationist caucus cowed by a leader with no regard for American allies – would not be surprised. His party has turned against the reality of what made America great: the waves of immigrants that came to its shores to seek opportunities without having to fear repression and dispossession.
Cruz used the likes of Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung as a soapbox to pontificate like a televangelist about the evils of communist China, a stage prop to be tossed away when the performance is over.
He has four years left in his term, and knows that his sermons about election fraud, as a strong Trump ally willing to continue to fight against the outcome of last month’s contest, will drown out his hypocrisy over Hong Kong’s vulnerable opposition.
Cruz’s betrayal also follows news that the European Union has, in principle, reached an investment agreement with Beijing, dealing a blow to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s assiduous efforts to force a wider divide between Brussels and Beijing.
There’s little more than a month left before Trump will need to vacate the White House for an incoming president-elect, who has announced many times since the election that he intends to realign Washington with its traditional allies.
So why couldn’t Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel wait a few more weeks for a restoration of the America of times past, when the country’s president, regardless of party, took the side of freedom and democracy against the world’s autocrats? The answer is that leaders in Brussels aren’t as concerned about Trump as they are about the 74 million Americans who voted to give the man another four years.
If the last four years have taught anyone making decisions about how closely to align with Washington, be they EU policymakers or Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, it is that many more Americans are happy to elect leaders that will sell out the principles they stand for.
So Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor can feel free to tighten the vice further on her detractors. Cruz has made sure that they won’t have shelter in America.