Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong waved American flags, sang patriotic songs, and even held up photos of President Donald Trump during a massive “Thanksgiving” rally in the city-state’s center, in an expression of gratitude for Trump’s decision to support and sign legislation expressing America’s explicit support for the demonstration.
“U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed into law congressional legislation which supported the protesters, despite angry objections from Beijing, with which he is seeking a deal to end a damaging trade war,” CNBC reported Friday.
The news was met with incredible enthusiasm in Hong Kong. Protesters took to the streets cheering for the United States, waving flags, singing the Star-Spangled Banner, and holding up photos of Trump, including a meme the President posted to Twitter on Wednesday, depicting him as the fictional World Heavyweight Champion, Rocky Balboa.
— Roz al Ghul ☀️ (@PolitiKurd) November 28, 2019
Protesters also paraded with the flags while playing recorded remarks from Trump and other American legislators expressing their support for the pro-democracy protests.
— Annie Wu (@annieeenyc) November 28, 2019
Trump’s support for the measure was nothing if not unexpected. The United States is in the midst of a heated trade war with China and the president had long-resisted making any statement, for or against, the pro-democracy protests, which just entered their sixth month.
But on Wednesday, Trump put his signature on a bill, which passed both the House and Senate on unanimous votes, and which mandates “sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who carry out human rights abuses on the semiautonomous island, require[s] an annual review of Hong Kong’s trade status and prohibit[s] the export of specific nonlethal weapons to Hong Kong police,” according to the New York Post.
The White House noted that it hopes the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act will encourage China to treat demonstrators with respect in order to maintain a working, beneficial trade relationship with the United States.
For protesters — especially those who lobbied for the bill — Trump’s signature represented a remarkable achievement for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, which kicked off back in the summer after Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, promised to pass a bill authorizing Chinese authorities to seek out, investigate, arrest, and deport political dissidents seeking shelter in Hong Kong, where there are guarantees of free speech and safety unavailable on the Chinese mainland.
The Chinese certainly weren’t thrilled. “Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng told U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad that the move constituted ‘serious interference in China’s internal affairs and a serious violation of international law,'” ABC News reported.
In a statement, Le Yucheng called the move “nakedly hegemonic,” and a “serious interference in China’s internal affairs and a serious violation of international law.” Chinese authorities promised retribution.
“This so-called legislation will only strengthen the resolve of the Chinese people, including the Hong Kong people, and raise awareness of the sinister intentions and hegemonic nature of the U.S.,” the statement said. “The U.S. plot is doomed.”
“In response,” the New York Post Added, “the US Embassy in Beijing said China’s Communist Party ‘must honor its promises to the Hong Kong people.'”
The United States acted at a critical time for the protests. After weeks of steadily increasing violence between protesters and Hong Kong police, demonstrators are now at the mercy of law enforcement. Large gatherings are all but banned and 5,800 demonstrators have been arrested.