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If China Cracks Down on Hong Kong, Will Corporate America Remember Its Morals?

A passenger walks past anti-government protesters sitting on the floor in front of security gates during a demonstration at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China, August 13, 2019. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

One of the most inflammatory developments in America’s ongoing cultural conflict has been the decision of so-called “woke capital” to use its considerable commercial power to threaten or impose economic sanctions on American states that implement public policies it doesn’t like. We’ve seen this play out many, many times — from boycotts against Indiana when it had the audacity to expand religious-liberty protections in the state, to punitive measures against North Carolina after it passed its so-called “bathroom bill,” and to threats against Georgia in opposition to its own religious-liberty bill and then its abortion restrictions. Progressive corporate America has made its position clear. It will take a moral stand, even if that stand potentially hurts the bottom line.

It’s always been hard to take that position seriously, however, when many of the same companies happily do immense amounts of business in the People’s Republic of China, a regime that systematically and ruthlessly crushes dissent. In China, the boycotts and bold stands are few and far between. Instead, there are glittering movie premieres, gleaming new factories, and intense marketing campaigns — all aimed at opening up one of the world’s most lucrative markets.

But are there limits? As we watch Hong Kong police beat pro-democracy protesters and as Twitter fills with images of police and military force massing near the border, will corporate America remember its morals? Will it use its commercial and cultural power to punish China if the government intervenes? Or will it be business as usual for America’s woke corporate giants?

Yes, President Trump should speak clearly and forcefully in favor of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters. His equivocation and ambiguity have been frustrating and shameful. Yes, there are concrete actions our government can take if China cracks down, but Congress and the president are not the only Americans with influence or with significant ties to Beijing. For a long time, the Communists in China have been able to enjoy the bounties of commercial and cultural engagement with corporate America while continuing their brutal, unjust reign over an oppressed people. American companies have long looked the other way so long as the dollars rolled in. It’s time for that indulgence to end. It’s time for all of the powerful components of American society to send a unified message — hands off Hong Kong, or China will pay a price greater than it may want to bear.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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