The U.S. Must Warn China: If You Attack Democracy in Hong Kong, There Will be Consequences | Opinion

Over the past two months, the world has seen the people of Hong Kong bravely stand up to the growing threat of totalitarianism. What began as a protest against a bill that would allow prisoners to be extradited to mainland China has evolved into a movement to demand that the Hong Kong government (largely now controlled by China's Communist Party) adheres to the promises of freedom and autonomy it made upon its return to China in 1997.

Protesters have flooded the streets since June—despite the threat of being arrested, smothered with tear gas, pelted with rubber bullets or attacked by masked thugs with batons. While Chinese tanks have lined up along the border of Hong Kong and mainland China, protesters have waved the American flag and sung the American national anthem. The protesters show no signs of wavering, and the outcome of these protests remains uncertain.

But one thing is for sure: The United States of America and the free world is watching. Chinese Communist Party leaders must know there will be consequences if the freedoms that were promised to the people of Hong Kong are eradicated by a communist totalitarian dictatorship. This is more than a protest about a proposed new law; it is about protecting the people of Hong Kong from tyranny and despotism—and keeping a growing totalitarian power at bay.

This effort by the Chinese Communist Party to meddle in Hong Kong's affairs is just one part of the totalitarian regime's plans to expand its power. As I discuss in my upcoming book, Trump vs. China, the Chinese Communist Party is taking actions across the globe that are threatening American interests, security and values. To successfully counter this threat, a unified American response is critical.

I am glad to see our leaders are currently in agreement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that "any violent crackdown would be completely unacceptable.... The world is watching." House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy affirmed, "America stands for freedom. America stands with Hong Kong." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted that the Congress stands "united with the people of Hong Kong in demanding their right to a hopeful, free and democratic future." Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer echoed Pelosi, saying, "America stands with the people of Hong Kong in their protest against this abuse of power by the government of Beijing."

The American people are also starting to recognize the challenge that a totalitarian, communist-ruled China poses to the United States. A recent Pew poll found that Americans are increasingly skeptical of the Chinese Communist Party's actions, with 60 percent of respondents reporting unfavorable views of China. This is the highest percentage in the 14 years that Pew has posed this question.

As American opposition to the Chinese Communist Party's tactics grows, it is up to government and industry leaders to begin asking and answering the tough questions. Can businesses continue to turn a blind eye to Chinese-led hacking that results in an estimated loss of $360 billion per year in intellectual property for the sake of their stock prices? Can institutes of higher education keep ignoring the distribution of Chinese Communist Party propaganda through Confucius Institutes on American campuses for the sake of financial gain? Can the defense bureaucracy retire old institutional technology and weaponry for the sake of more efficient strategies and tactics? Can government and private sector leaders put aside short-sighted partisan politics and personal interests to address this threat?

The Trump administration has taken a hard-line stance against the Chinese Communist Party's aggressive tactics, but this challenge is far from over. In fact, it is just beginning.

Woman Protester Hong Kong
A woman shouts at police officers as they advance toward protesters in the district of Yuen Long on July 27 in Hong Kong, China. Laurel Chor/Getty

I don't believe this has to evolve into any sort of U.S. military conflict. But President Donald Trump's tariffs on China are just one of many ways we can make the nation's leaders regret bad behavior.

The United States now has an opportunity to send a strong message to Beijing and preserve the freedom and rights of the people in Hong Kong. We can start by passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. This bill was introduced by Congressman Christopher Smith in the House and Senator Marco Rubio in the Senate and will hold officials in Hong Kong and China accountable for the suppression of freedom and human rights in Hong Kong.

The United States must stand with the people of Hong Kong and the legacy of freedom that they are trying to protect. If America cannot effectively respond as a nation against the Chinese Communist Party's attempts to stamp out freedom in Hong Kong, we will be hard-pressed to successfully counter their aggression in the United States and around the world.

Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich is the chairman of Gingrich 360, the host of the Newt's World podcast and author of the New York Times best-sellers Understanding Trump and Trump's America.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

The U.S. Must Warn China: If You Attack Democracy in Hong Kong, There Will be Consequences | Opinion | The debate