The arrests of democracy advocates in Hong Kong presents the incoming Biden administration with limited options and an early test of its promised hard-nosed stance with China.
Wednesday’s sweep of more than 50 pro-democracy figures, as well as an American human-rights lawyer, marked the broadest use of a national-security law that China imposed on Hong Kong in July. Since then, the Trump administration has used sanctions and other censure, though Beijing has pressed on with its crackdown on the democracy camp.
While those tools remain available, Beijing’s decision to conduct the sweep weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office shows that control over Hong Kong takes priority over resetting relations with the U.S.
“If one had hoped that Beijing might pause on the Hong Kong crackdown in order to create better conditions to engage with the incoming Biden administration, that hope has been dashed,” said Tom Kellogg, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Asian Law. “The fact that one of the arrestees is an American citizen will further strain ties once the Biden administration takes office.”
A spokesman for the Biden transition had no immediate comment on what steps could be taken to support democracy advocates in the Chinese territory. Mr. Biden’s pick for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, said in a tweet that the Biden administration “will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy.”