Idaho Sen. Jim Risch has shown considerable gumption the past couple of weeks.
Pres. Donald Trump wants a trade deal with China to bolster his re-election and keep the economy going strong.
His tariffs have weakened the world economy. Europe is tipping into a recession as is much of the third world. U.S. manufacturing has turned downward. U.S. agriculture is struggling.
The plus side is that the U.S. job market is good and the stock market is stellar. But American GDP growth is moderate with the fading of the boost from the tax cut. The annual federal deficit is hitting the trillion dollar-plus level last seen during the 2008-2011 recession. Further softness could make a Trump re-election more difficult.
A trade deal with China which ratchets down tariffs and boosts Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural products would be a major political achievement and boost the economy.
But Congress and especially Sen. Risch have complicated matters for Trump. As Senate Foreign Relations chair, Risch has played a key role in passing recent bipartisan legislation to back the protestors in Hong Kong. The pro-China leadership in that city has cracked down sharply, prodded by their Chinese masters. Hong Kong’s people last week chose pro-democracy candidates overwhelmingly in local council elections.
The measure requires the president to review annually Hong Kong’s favorable trade status and restrict it if the City’s democratic status is restricted. Also, crowd control arms exports are restricted.
The Hong Kong measure put Trump in a bind. He wants a trade deal with China. But Congress wanted to protect Hong Kong.
National press reports indicate that Risch was one of a key group of lawmakers who pushed Trump to sign the measure (which he did last week). But, Risch is likely to have to push Trump again.
The next key China issue needs to be the fate of the Uighurs (a Turkish, predominately Muslim, Chinese minority of 11.3 million in Western China).
Senator Risch raised the alarm a year ago in remarks before his committee:
"To whole groups that the Communist party opposes, such as the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, the solution is even more simple: send them to “re-education” camps. It is hard for China to be a responsible world actor if it violates the most basic human rights of its own people. Unfortunately, the Communist party also does not realize that diversity actually encourages innovation and prosperity. U.S. policy must defend those who struggle for freedom.”
Recently internal Chinese documents were released that detail the detention of over 1 million Uighurs in such camps where those held are prevented from praying, harshly punished and trained to be “good communists”. Those outside are forced to eat during Ramadan (rather than fasting) and are barred from studying the Koran. Other press reports show that China is systematically destroying mosques with thousands of religious sites obliterated as revealed in chilling satellite photos.
Fred Hiatt, Washington Post editorial page editor, says “In China, every day is Kristallnacht”, referencing the Nazis’ simultaneous destruction of Jewish synagogues, cemeteries and businesses.
The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019 has passed the U.S. Senate, requiring regular reports on Chinese activities, allowing policymakers to impose consequences.
Risch has been supportive but his key role is likely forthcoming. Because of broad bipartisan support Congress will likely put the measure shortly on the president’s desk. Trump may be tempted to exercise his veto to further a trade deal.
Risch will be key to convincing Trump that standing up to Chinese tyranny is more important than the economic boost from striking a deal on trade.
And, that, like signing the Hong Kong measure, is the right thing to do.