In the United States, the fight against coronavirus has not stopped black people from dying unjustly. On May 25, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, begging for his life with a police officer’s knee on his neck. On March 13, EMT Breonna Taylor was shot to death by police officers who burst into the wrong apartment. In February, jogger Ahmaud Arbery was killed by two vigilantes.
This week, anti-racist demonstrators around the US took to the streets, and Minneapolis arrested one of the men responsible for Floyd’s death.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, police brutality is prevalent as Beijing moves to end the territory’s relative autonomy from communist rule. The relatively liberal territory is a pivot point in the global economy, where capital flows between the US, Europe, and mainland China. The importance of this relationship is a prominent reason China hasn’t moved more quickly to seize full control of Hong Kong.
The parallels between America’s struggle with white supremacy and Hong Kong’s fight for political rights are found in the demand for human dignity and for holding the powerful accountable. In fact, the parallels between China’s government and that of the US may disturb those who haven’t been paying attention.
Now, China is betting the world’s pandemic distraction will allow it to effectively annex Hong Kong—and is hoping that US president Donald Trump will not risk further destabilizing trade by ending the unique treatment of Hong Kong under American law that makes it a major port of trade and financial center.
Predictably, Trump has shown more concern for profits than people. In a press conference on May 29 that many anticipated would address America’s racial strife, he instead promised vague retaliation against China for its action in Hong Kong—but nothing that is likely to deter Beijing by truly slowing trade.
In the same week, Trump invoked the specter of the Jim Crow south in tweets about Minneapolis, declaring that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” That would be bad enough in his own country, but is also a signal to Chinese president Xi Jinping and autocrats around the world that the American president condones their brutal tactics.
The US often ignores social strife to seek economic growth, whether that’s inequality in black communities or repression abroad. But true globalization is based on the idea that humans should not be denied access to each other by artificial borders. It’s not an excuse for leaders to look away from oppression abroad just to keep trade flowing, or a handy distraction from structural discrimination against its own citizens.