HONG KONG – US Sen. Ted Cruz on Saturday condemned China’s handling of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, saying suppression of free speech in the territory showed fear from what he called a “dictatorship” in Beijing.
“The Chinese Communist government, I believe, is terrified of the protesters in the streets in Hong Kong,” the Texas Republican told reporters at an afternoon meeting at the US consul general’s residence in the Chinese special administrative region.
“President Xi is terrified of millions of people in Hong Kong but even more than that millions of people in China yearning to live free.”
The 2016 US presidential candidate was dressed head to toe in black, in what he called a sign of solidarity with Hong Kong protesters — men and women, boys and girls, he said — who have adopted that as their de facto uniform.
“A protester has power that makes the dictatorship tremble,” Cruz said, comparing a man shot in the chest by a Hong Kong police officer last week to the protester who stared down a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square during the 1989 anti-government protests.
Asked about the violent turn some of the Hong Kong protests have taken in recent weeks, Cruz said he had not seen violence on the part of the protesters, who have been vandalizing subway stations and businesses with ties to China and who have physically attacked some who have disagreed with them.
Cruz said he had met protest leaders, whom he did not name, and was told that violence was being perpetrated by agents of Beijing who had infiltrated the protest movement.
While he said he had no proof of that, he said it was something that Beijing would favor.
“There is a reason that the Communist Party in China wants the Hong Kong protests to turn violent,” he said. “The Chinese Communist Party very much wants to characterize these protests as violent acts of terrorism rather than democracy protesters standing up for human rights.”
He called on protesters not to give Beijing that leverage and to resist the urge to engage in aggression and adopt the non-violent protest examples of Mahatma Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King Jr. in the US.
Cruz, one of the highest-profile US politicians to visit the Hong Kong since the pro-democracy protests began 19 weekends ago, said Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, canceled a meeting with him on his arrival in the territory on Saturday morning.
The long-planned meeting was scrapped when he refused to keep any discussions with Lam secret, he said.
“She seems to misunderstand how free speech operates,” Cruz said.
The cancellation was a sign of weakness and fear from Lam, he said.
The Texas senator said Beijing’s reaction to a tweet by an NBA general manager this week showed similar fear of values like free speech.
Daryl Morey, GM of the Houston Rockets, the NBA team in Cruz’s hometown, posted an image on Twitter that read, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”
In response, “the Communist government in China lost their minds,” Cruz said. “They treated it as a threat to the very heart of their dictatorship.”
China responded with “economic blackmail and extortion,” severing long-standing business relationships with the basketball league and demanding apologies.
He said Beijing was trying to impose “global censorship” to anybody who disagreed with its policies and principles.
He called on the league to cease commercial relations with China.
Getting back to Hong Kong in the 40-minute session with reporters, Cruz said protesters’ demands for an investigation into police actions during the protests and, more importantly, universal suffrage and free elections, should be met.
“Those demands are right, they are reasonable and I stand with the people of Hong Kong calling on the government of China to honor the promises it made to the world when it promised to maintain political freedom in Hong Kong,” he said.
The city has become an example to the world of what freedom and free enterprise can accomplish, Cruz said, but it needs to restore democratic values to continue to be that beacon.
“The Chinese government, if it continues to respond with brutality and oppression, risks destroying the prosperity in Hong Kong,” he said.
Cruz said he would continue efforts in the US Congress to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, which would require reevaluation of certain rights the territory was granted separate from China.
“We should continue to look for tools to stand up for human rights and for democracy and to speak clearly against repression and torture and murder,” Cruz said. He cited not only the Hong Kong legislation but other actions the US government has taken to sanction those involved with the detention of Muslim Uyghurs and other minority groups in China.