Two dynamics appear particularly important regarding Missouri’s relationship with China.
One involves commerce: Depending on the year, the state exports between roughly $800 million to more than $1 billion annually to China. Most of that involves oilseeds, grains and meat products, according to the U.S.-China Business Council.
The other involves a Midwestern view of human rights: Missouri members of Congress did not provide one negative vote to legislation in May sanctioning China for abuses heaped upon ethnic minorities, ranging from religious persecution to detention in concentration camps.
This balancing act has gone on for a while. China’s nearly 1.4 billion people make for a compelling marketplace for foreign goods, not to mention a ready supply of low-cost labor for American companies locating abroad.
But the Asian nation’s notorious treatment of its own citizens, in addition to its expansionist goals in the Pacific Rim and beyond, makes for a queasy international relationship.
On Friday afternoon, President Trump announced economic, immigration and other actions against the Beijing government, including a review of Chinese companies listed on American financial markets and their practices.
“Investment firms should not be subjecting their clients to hidden and undue risks associated with financing Chinese companies that do not play by the same rules,” Trump said at the White House, noting that China has been a leading player in stealing corporate intellectual property.
One Missouri lawmaker, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, believes the U.S.-China relationship has reached a tipping point.
“Will we acquiesce? Are we, in this nation, willing to witness the slow undoing of the free world?” the Republican said in a recent speech on the floor of the Senate. “Are we willing to watch our own way of life, our own liberties and livelihoods grow dependent on the policy of Beijing?”
Since going to Washington last year, Hawley has become a steadfast critic of the Communist government headquartered in Beijing.
He has been especially condemning of China’s increasing crackdown on basic liberties in Hong Kong, a former British colony operating under a “one country, two systems” formula in the southeaster part of the Chinese mainland.
China’s National People’s Congress on Thursday approved a new national security law that curtails autonomy in Hong Kong. The vote was 2,878 to 1.
In his Rose Garden remarks Friday, Trump called Hong Kong “a bastion of liberty” that will be corrupted by China’s power grab.
“This was a plain violation of Beijing’s treaty obligations,” the president said. “This is a tragedy for the people of Hong Kong, the people of China and, indeed, the people of the world.”
Hawley visited Hong Kong last fall, meeting with pro-democracy demonstrators, and gave a speech in the aftermath labeling China as the world’s principal economic and military threat.
“The Chinese Communist Party is a menace to all free peoples. It seeks nothing less than domination. It wants nothing less than world power,” he said in the recent Senate speech.
“This is China’s policy, to control Asia and to rule the Pacific. From there, the Chinese government wants to spread its influence to Africa, to Europe to South America, a master of home and abroad.”
Legislative leaders of both parties have spoken out against Chinese actions.
“If America does not speak out for human rights in China because of some commercial interest, then we lose all moral authority to speak out on human rights violations anyplace in the world,” U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said last week.
On Friday, Republican Congressman Ted Yoho, a Floridian on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that China, having taken freedoms from Hong Kong, would set its sights on other countries in the region.
“I think you’re going to see not just the United States, but I think you’re going to see western democracies around the world come to shore up the defense of Taiwan,” he said. “This is something that China needs to know ... hands off of Taiwan. That’s not acceptable.”