(Originally published here on January 5, 2021 in the South China Morning Post.)
The sparkling wine was just starting to chill on New Year’s Eve when we received 2020’s final jab against China by the Trump administration.
With extreme diplomatic eloquence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assailed Chinese authorities for the way they doled out justice to the “Hong Kong 12” and called the city’s government officials “lackeys” for their collusion in the matter.
It was strange to think about the US’ top diplomat ordering up an announcement to be delivered on what was for all intents and purposes a public holiday, even if not officially, particularly one that most couldn’t wait to celebrate to mark the end of such a traumatic year.
It wasn’t as if we weren’t aware of Pompeo’s contempt for the Communist Party and the Hong Kong officials who put up no resistance to any measure that Beijing promulgates to undermine opposition activists and lawmakers.
This hatred is so thoroughly blinding that Pompeo can’t see the contradiction between his position on Hong Kong democracy and the fact that he has sided with his boss by refusing to recognise the outcome of his own country’s democratic election. He justified his comments about a “smooth transition to a second Trump administration” by pointing out that no one could claim Trump lost until all of the legal challenges against the result had been adjudicated.
Fair enough, except that the US judiciary all the way up to the Supreme Court, whose bench includes three Trump appointees, have struck down or declined to hear some 60 cases for lack of jurisdiction or any shred of credible evidence.
We don’t know if Pompeo still stands by his comments on his expectation of a second Trump term. Instead of calling press conferences that would allow the media to ask about his position on his boss’ attempts to subvert the US electoral process, Pompeo has kept the State Department busy cranking out anti-China missives – three of them just last week.
To be fair, Pompeo has spoken up forcefully and appropriately about the way Beijing and the administration of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor have all but snuffed out any political opposition in Hong Kong. The US has also announced sanctions that align well with the country’s stance on human rights and democracy.
In the past year, we’ve seen the Chinese authorities detain and expel members of foreign news outlets and jail citizen journalists and lawyers, all for doing their job. Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig most likely haven’t seen the light of day since they were detained by the Chinese authorities in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou, while Meng gets public hearings and lives in her luxury Vancouver mansion. And let’s not forget the grave matter of “vocational training camps” in Xinjiang surrounded by high fences and barbed wire.
But Pompeo’s indignation about the anti-democratic machinations of the Chinese government is playing out as many members of his party are so driven to ensure the “smooth transition” that he spoke of that they’ve pledged to reject the result that has been certified by all 50 states, some after recounts that only confirmed the outcome that was called last month.
The group of Republicans planning to obstruct Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote don’t seem to comprehend the hypocrisy of condemning the Chinese government for undermining democracy while encouraging such behaviour in the US. The group includes Ted Cruz, the anti-China evangelist who has abandoned those in Hong Kong fighting the hardest for his cause, and Marsha Blackburn, who recently decried China’s “5,000 year history of cheating and stealing”.
The coup that Pompeo apparently hopes Cruz and Blackburn will pull off is unprecedented in modern American history, and no less damaging to the post-World War II liberal democratic global order built by the US than China’s neutering of Hong Kong’s legislative branch and ouster of opposition lawmakers there.
There’s almost no chance that Cruz’s coup will succeed. Those involved are most likely partaking to declare their fealty to the man who refuses to accept the will of the electorate and who will influence a significant minority of Americans for years to come.