Trump and Other G7 Leaders Should Use Summit to Push for Free Trade and a Free Hong Kong

COMMENTARY Global Politics

Trump and Other G7 Leaders Should Use Summit to Push for Free Trade and a Free Hong Kong

Aug 23rd, 2019 2 min read
COMMENTARY BY
James M. Roberts

Research Fellow For Economic Freedom and Growth

James M. Roberts' primary responsibility is to edit the Rule of Law and Monetary Freedom sections of Index of Economic Freedom.
They could agree to push for free trade among themselves, and unify in support of embattled Hong Kongers pushing back against an authoritarian China for freedom and democracy. NICHOLAS KAMM / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

What if G7 leaders lowered their lofty aims and instead took a unified stand on a few issues where they can actually exert some meaningful influence?

Supporting these millions of mostly-peaceful Hong Kong protesters should be a no-brainer for G7 leaders.

Focusing on one or two high-priority agenda items, such as free trade and Hong Kong, is the way to actually get something accomplished.

Country leaders from the Group of Seven, known as G7, which includes the United States, Japan, Germany, and other advanced countries, will all gather in Biarritz, France, this weekend and attempt to tackle virtually every vexing problem facing mankind, including climate change, threats to biodiversity, and inequality. Don’t expect any surprises: You can bet they will end the meeting by announcing their resolve to fight these scourges with more taxpayer-funded schemes.

But what if G7 leaders lowered their lofty aims and instead took a unified stand on a few issues where they can actually exert some meaningful influence? They could agree to push for free trade among themselves, and unify in support of embattled Hong Kongers pushing back against an authoritarian China for freedom and democracy.

Supporting these millions of mostly-peaceful Hong Kong protesters should be a no-brainer for G7 leaders. The group’s membership constitutes the “who’s who” of Western democracies, founded at the height of the Cold War as a mechanism to increase economic freedom, promote global trade and investment, and coordinate action on shared security concerns.

Back then, the West’s biggest security concern was the totalitarian communist dictatorship known as the Soviet Union. Today it’s another totalitarian communist dictatorship: the People’s Republic of China. Unfortunately, China is far more sophisticated and economically powerful than the backward and impoverished USSR.

In 1997, Beijing’s communist rulers pledged that they would permit Hong Kong to operate for 50 years under its British-legacy democratic rule of law and capitalism. That “one country, two systems” agreement permitted Hong Kong to surge to the top of the leaderboard on The Heritage Foundation’s annual index of economic freedom.

Now, however, those freedoms are visibly eroding.

The protesters in Hong Kong rightly see a new Beijing-backed extradition law as a dangerous beginning that could eventually lead to the crushing of all dissent in Hong Kong. Beijing has condemned the demonstrations, amassing police and military for a show of force along Hong Kong’s border. So far, it has stopped short of actual military intervention, but that's by no means guaranteed to continue.

It is not likely that any G7 country would ever intervene militarily to stop Beijing from marching into Hong Kong. But it would be easy for them to lay down a strong marker this weekend that such predatory behavior would have very serious, long-term global consequences for China. And it’s simply the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, to make meaningful progress on free trade would require a unified G7 push for lowering trade barriers across their economies, perhaps by taking a serious look at the “Zero-Zero-Zero” proposal of zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies that President Trump made at last year’s G7 meeting in Canada. To achieve this very difficult goal, the toughest part would be getting rid of hugely wasteful agricultural subsidies on both sides of the Atlantic.

To burnish his reputation as a world-class dealmaker, Trump can be expected to push hard at the G7 against France’s recently enacted “digital services tax,” which is aimed directly at American tech companies. Trump has threatened to retaliate by imposing tariffs on French wine.

Of course the G7 meeting will also offer an opportunity for Trump to have a high-profile meeting with new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and possibly encourage a free trade agreement after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. Trump will also likely push Johnson to block Huawei and other Chinese digital electronics companies from building a 5G network in the U.K., due to security risks of electronic eavesdropping.

On another trade-related note, Trump will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Abe to promote a U.S.-Japan free trade agreement and to open markets in Japan to an increase in American exports.

Many other items could be on the agenda in Biarritz, but other topics should all be relegated to the back burner to keep the meeting from devolving into just another meaningless international gabfest and photo op. Focusing on one or two high-priority agenda items, such as free trade and Hong Kong, is the way to actually get something accomplished.

This piece originally appeared in The Washington Examiner