Is Congress finally holding the Chicoms accountable?
Beijing's brutal crackdown on democracy protesters in Hong Kong sparked a rare outbreak of bipartisanship in Washington.
The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. The House adopted it with only one dissenting vote. The president is expected to sign it.
The legislation calls for sanctions against officials who violate the human rights of protesters.
Significantly, it also requires an annual review to determine if the former British colony is truly autonomous as Beijing agreed it would be under the "one country, two systems" arrangement.
Should it fail the review, it could lose the special legal and trade privileges it enjoys with the U.S. that has helped make Hong Kong the preferred location for international (and Chinese) companies to do business.
Over 1,300 U.S. companies are currently operating in Hong Kong, and they would no longer have easy access and the free flow of capital.
This legislation takes us back to 1999 territory, pre-World Trade Organization. Back then, Communist China's low-tariff access to the U.S. was subject to an annual review of its human rights record. The president had to certify that China was making progress on human rights – or else its imports would be hit with high tariffs.
The annual review deprived American businesses of the long-term certainty they needed to build factories in China. Merely the possibility that higher duties could reappear at any time was enough to keep businesses out. The starting gun only sounded when President Clinton and Congress scrapped the annual review and gave China permanent "most favored nation" trade status.
Congress has now put Hong Kong under the regime that used to exist for China, not only by extending trade privileges on a temporary, year-to-year basis, but by coupling those privileges to other issues.
That takes us back to 1974, the year Congress adopted the Jackson-Vanick Amendment. This landmark legislation coupled trade privileges to a country's human rights record.
Spurred by the Soviet Union denying exit visas to Jews, Congress prohibited "most favored nation" trade deals with communist countries that violate human rights.
Americans asked: Why should we allow communist dictators to get rich selling slave-made goods in our country? Over the objection of Henry Kissinger, Congress answered unanimously: We shouldn't.
This was extended globally and remained official U.S. policy for 25 years until Congress scrapped it at the behest of multinational companies and Wall Street. The outsourcing lobby peddled the fantasy that trading with Red China would make them more like us. Never happened.
We are now back to the future.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act could likely snowball because there's plenty more legislation where it came from.
In response to the Beijing's horrific human rights abuses in Western China where it has imprisoned more than a million Muslim minority citizens in concentration camps, the Senate has already passed the bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act.
Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, has legislation to stop the World Bank from giving low-interest "development" loans to China, the world's second-largest economy. Incredibly, China has received $7.8 billion from the World Bank just since 2016.
Even more incredibly, our own government wants to steer the retirement savings of federal workers and active duty military into an index fund that includes Chinese companies under U.S. sanctions and U.S. export bans. The Taxpayers and Savers Protection (TSP) Act from Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., would scotch that harebrained scheme.
And there's legislation to stop another act of idiocy by our government.
Over 150 Chinese companies with a combined market capitalization of $1.2 trillion, including 11 state-owned enterprises, are listed on America's three largest stock exchanges.
But Chinese companies are not opening their books to our regulators, as American companies are required to do.
Legislation would force Chinese companies listed on U.S. exchanges to comply with U.S. accounting and oversight regulations. It's mind-boggling there even has to be a debate about this.
The American people understand what's at stake in our dealings with China:
The Chinese Communist Party wants to take over the world. They seek to weaken us economically and socially so we are unable to resist them militarily. We can't pretend otherwise, and we should not be building them up with our money, capital and technology.
Congress is beginning to understand that, too.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act strengthens President Trump's hand in his dealings with China.
Congress can do more and make it crystal clear America stands united against a totalitarian China.