The House and the Senate have passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. What is the significance of the Act?
The detention of a top executive from Chinese technology giant Huawei shocked financial markets around the world last week as investors worried that the arrest would derail U.S.-China trade talks. But the detention of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada, pending her extradition to the U.S., has grown from a trade irritant to a full-blown diplomatic crisis. Over the weekend, the Chinese government threatened both Canada and the U.S.
Even seasoned China-watchers were startled last week when news broke that Meng Hongwei, the vice minister of China’s chief law-enforcement ministry, had disappeared. Meng is not just a high-level government official. As chief of Interpol, he is arguably the highest-profile Chinese leader of an international organization.
The most recent U.S. freedom-of-navigation operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea garnered the usual global headlines, but it also shows how ineffective such operations have been in deterring Chinese actions in the region. It was so inconsequential that the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not even be bothered to come up with new phrases in what is now a ritualized denunciation.
Last Friday, President Trump signed into law the Taiwan Travel Act, which makes it a U.S. policy to allow high-level meetings between Taiwan and U.S. government officials. News reports about the law have often described it as “non-binding.” This “not legally binding” view is widely shared, including by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But this reading is not quite right.
The Taiwan Travel Act, which passed the Senate on Feb. 28 and is heading to the president for his signature, will have limited legal force since it does not require the president to do anything he cannot already do under the U.S. Constitution. But that does not mean the law is purely symbolic. It is likely to have a significant impact on U.S.-Taiwan policy, and consequently, on the increasingly fragile U.S.-China relationship.
British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson recently announced that the Royal Navy would be conducting a South China Sea Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) after its visit to Australia later this year. His statement also contained a rare full-throated specific endorsement of U.S. FONOPs in the region. “We absolutely support the U.S. approach on this, we very much support what the U.S.