Andy Puzder: Hong Kong protesters are fighting for their freedom -- They deserve US support

While talks Saturday between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Japan focused on resolving trade disputes, there is another major issue dividing our two countries: the fight for freedom by the people of Hong Kong.

We don’t know what, if anything, Trump and Xi said about Hong Kong. But the fate of the former British colony and the rights of its citizens are important and should be of concern to Americans and free people everywhere.

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Protesters claim nearly 2 million people have joined their ranks to stage demonstrations and marches against a controversial extradition bill, while Hong Kong police estimated peak turnout of protesters was 338,000.

The protests have being going on for weeks, as the people of Hong Kong have tried desperately to stop their semi-autonomous democratic government from succumbing to Beijing’s pressure and passing deeply unpopular extradition legislation.

The extradition bill would nullify the civil liberties and criminal justice protections that Hong Kongers enjoy. It could lead to the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China, which is ruled by the heavy hand of the Communist Party.

In addition to demonstrating outside the Hong Kong consulates of all the G20 powers, the anti-extradition protesters were on the ground in Osaka Japan during the summit, making the issue of Hong Kong’s fate impossible to ignore.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters were right to raise their grievances at the summit that was focused on trade and economics. Trade, geopolitics and human rights are deeply interrelated. Hong Kong punches well above its weight both economically and with respect to freedom.

The Heritage Foundation’s 2019 Index of Economic Freedom ranks Hong Kong’s capitalist economy as the freest in the world. China’s essentially state-run economy, operating under a Communist dictatorship, ranks a dismal No. 100 on the freedom index.

Demonstrating the benefits of economic freedom, the gross domestic product per person in Hong Kong last year was $49,000 – while mainland China lagged far behind at only $10,000.

Hong Kong is a bastion of freedom and prosperity on the doorstep of a totalitarian giant, standing as a prominent example of what economic freedom can do.

If Chinese leaders were truly interested in acting in the best interests of their people and stimulating economic growth and prosperity they would make China more like Hong Kong. Instead, they want to bring their iron-fisted rule to Hong Kong and make it more like the rest of China.

Not surprisingly, Beijing used its veto power to keep any discussion of the Hong Kong protests off the G20 summit agenda.

“We will not allow the G20 to discuss the Hong Kong issue,” China’s assistant minister of foreign affairs told reporters Monday. That’s unfortunate. It’s a discussion China will find difficult to avoid.

As things stand, the special autonomy Hong Kong enjoys makes it exempt from the counter-tariffs that President Trump has imposed on the Chinese mainland, as well as export restrictions limiting advanced technology that China can buy from the U.S.

This arrangement benefits everyone. Hong Kong serves as a gateway between the West and China, where companies from both systems can trade and collaborate. It’s a relationship and a status well worth protecting from totalitarian excesses.

The U.S. Congress is considering bipartisan legislation titled the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 that would use trade as leverage to exert pressure on the Chinese government to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy, democracy, and traditions of law and justice.

One of the stated purposes of the legislation is “to ensure that all residents of Hong Kong are afforded freedom from arbitrary or unlawful arrest, detention, or imprisonment.”

Seems pretty reasonable.

The U.S. legislation would require China to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy to preserve the favorable trading status Hong Kong has with America. Congress should pass it expeditiously.

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Economic freedom permeates every facet of world power and that is why the eyes of the world were on Presidents Trump and Xi in Osaka.

Trump is making far more progress on the trade front that his critics imagined he could. Hopefully, protecting those in Hong Kong fighting for their liberty will be a part of whatever trade deal Trump ultimately achieves.

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