How will US elections outcome impact HK?

March 07, 2024 22:03

Americans will cast their votes on November 5 in pivotal elections that could knock global politics off kilter depending on who wins. China and Hong Kong should brace for an uneasy combination of hardball politics and hostility whatever the outcome.

The presidential election is heading for a rematch between incumbent Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump. Biden is seeking a second term as president. Trump, who won in 2016 but lost to Biden in 2020, can run again under the constitution, which allows two four-year terms.

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives will be up for grabs and 34 of the 100 Senate seats will also be contested to decide which party controls the Congress. Currently, Republicans control the House with a thin majority and Democrats control the Senate with the help of three independent senators.

Biden, a Democrat, has soothed much of the ill feelings Trump created as president towards Europe, the Middle East, parts of East Asia, the United Nations, NATO and WHO. But he has kept Trump’s trade tariffs and sanctions against China and Hong Kong.

He adopted a hardball China policy as president and said several times the US will defend Taiwan if China invades. But he has sought cooperation with Beijing on issues such as climate change. His combination of tough policies and cooperation will continue but with a likely hardened tone if he wins reelection.

Global politics, including US politics, will see a seismic change if Trump wins. Unlike his first term, when his top aides quietly shelved his most extreme policies, Trump will fill top posts this time with unquestioning loyalists to do his bidding.

He has already said he will take revenge against his perceived enemies, including prosecutors pursuing criminal charges against him. He has pledged to reimpose a travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, impose what he described as ideological screening for immigrants, end automatic birthright citizenship, passports, and other benefits unless at least one parent is a US citizen or legal immigrant. This will affect Hong Kong and mainland women who go to the US to give birth.

He has promised mass deportation of people sneaking into the US from Mexico, end all illegal immigration, and cancel student visas for those considered anti-American. He said he will impose tariffs of perhaps 10 percent on most foreign goods and ask Congress to pass a law that imposes a reciprocal tariff on countries that impose tariffs on US goods.

He will propose measures to phase out Chinese imports of goods such as electronics and ban Chinese ownership in sectors such as technology. He has already toyed with the idea of quitting NATO and warned the US would not protect NATO countries if Russia invaded unless those countries follow NATO rules on military spending.

But Trump is mercurial and may not carry out his reported threats. He has expressed admiration for strongman leaders such as Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin.

It is a toss-up who will win the presidential election. Current polls show Trump has a slight edge, but the election is still months away. Likewise, it’s still too early to predict which party will control Congress or if there will be split control as is now the case.

During my many years as a Hong Kong correspondent in Washington DC in the 1990s, Congress was often polarized but still found ways to compromise on national interest issues, including increasing trade with China and supporting Beijing’s membership of WTO. That is no longer the case. It has become almost impossible for Democrats and Republicans to meet halfway even on national interest issues.

But the one area Congress is totally united on is China policy. Both parties have shown they will jointly pursue a policy of toughness and, to a certain extent, hostility. Beijing and Hong Kong should brace for an escalation of US measures to stop China from receiving cutting-edge technology such as advanced chips and AI.

Congress could push for more sanctions against Hong Kong and mainland officials who it sees as violating human rights and free speech in the name of national security. Whoever becomes president will find it difficult to ignore unanimous decisions by Congress because the president will be attacked as not anti-China enough.

Some analysts say a Cold War between China and the US is already underway. Beijing and Washington have scoffed at this. The US insists it’s just strategic competition, not conflict. President Xi Jinping has said China does not want a cold war or hot war.

Hong Kong is trapped in the middle of a US-China competition which it cannot escape. It is part of China and must follow Beijing’s policies, including wolf warrior statements in response to US attacks against Hong Kong’s human rights and free speech record. As a Hong Kong-born American, I hope it will be just US-China competition, not a cold or hot war as Xi said.

A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.