Activists Slam Newsom's Hong Kong Visit for Focus on Climate Instead of Human Rights

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) (Getty Images)
October 23, 2023

Human rights advocates and political dissidents with ties to Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, and Tibet are condemning California Democratic governor Gavin Newsom’s travels to Hong Kong and China where he plans to avoid discussion of human rights abuses and focus on "climate" collaboration.

"It’s very tough for us to understand why Governor Newsom decided to visit China," said Charles Lam, spokesman for Hong Kong Forum Los Angeles, who added that "China is going to use Newsom as basically an advertisement to pretend that business is as usual even in light of all these crackdowns."

Lam’s nonprofit is one of more than 50 dissident and human rights-focused diasporic groups to oppose the governor’s taxpayer-funded trip, as Hong Kong keeps hundreds of pro-democracy activists imprisoned, while China separates Tibetan children from their families and forces Uyghurs into labor camps.

"While he enjoys the freedom and safety of visiting Hong Kong and mainland China, his constituents who are in exile cannot return home without being immediately detained," the coalition wrote in a letter first reported by Politico. "Among over 100,000 residents in California born in Hong Kong, many have family members and friends threatened by the ongoing political crackdown."

The human rights outcry is casting a pall over Newsom’s well-publicized venture to broker deals with the Chinese Communist Party on renewable energy, trade, and tourism, even as he pledges to "combat xenophobia." On his way to Asia the governor stopped off in Israel, in a visit that some critics called a taxpayer-funded campaign stunt and also angered anti-Israel activists.

The governor's state-funded travel to China, which is well known for its human rights atrocities, comes after California for years banned state trips to red states over their transgender policies—a ban that under Newsom’s administration extended to more than half the country before its repeal last month.

A representative for Newsom did not respond to a request for comment.

The governor’s visit to Hong Kong, which preceded California in requiring corporations to report their carbon footprint, has sparked particular outrage among dissidents. Hong Kong leaders are holding more than a thousand political prisoners as part of their sweeping authoritarian crackdown. The government in 2020 enacted a far-reaching "national security law" that lets authorities arrest virtually anyone for perceived threats, and President Joe Biden has sanctioned Hong Kong officials and warned U.S. companies against doing business with the region.

None of this deterred Newsom, who stopped off in the region on Monday for a "fireside chat" with a professor of global sustainability and top official at Hong Kong University.

"The governor’s trip to Hong Kong cannot but signal that California is not on the same page as the United States generally with respect to the CCP’s effective takeover of Hong Kong," said Times Wang, who fights human rights legal battles against the CCP through his firm Farra & Wang PLLC.

"Regardless of what benefit the governor might think there is to California and Californians, and I struggle to think of any other than relatively meaningless short-term ones, such a signal can only be bad for democratic values in California and beyond," added Wang, whose father is a dissident detained by the CCP.

Newsom’s itinerary features visits to a Tesla factory and meetings with officials to sign a "memorandum of understanding" on climate issues. His wife is set to join him in Beijing to see a "successful farm-to-school program in action."