California Governor Gavin Newsom is heading on a weeklong trip to China, including Hong Kong, beginning October 23. The trip aims to focus on actions to address climate change. According to a media report, Newsom’s office was quick to assert he would “steer clear” of “human rights issues in Hong Kong and China’s Xinjiang province,” as if there is a trade-off between addressing the climate and improving rights.
California has historically been among the largest oil-producing states in the United States. But Governor Newsom has committed to phasing out fossil fuels to protect local communities from harm and to help slow the climate crisis. California is currently suing five of the world’s largest oil and gas companies claiming the companies knew their products contributed to climate change while spending decades misleading the public. At the United Nations last month, Newsom called on nations to start stating that the “climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis.”
Fossil fuels are the primary contributor to the climate crisis. In his own state, Newsom recognizes the human rights toll of fossil fuels from extraction to burning. He should raise that with Chinese officials as well.
Robust and rights-respecting climate action also requires the full and meaningful participation of civil society. But journalists, activists, and others throughout China, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang fear intimidation, torture, and imprisonment simply for criticizing the Chinese government. They cannot safely engage in public policies to effectively address climate change. A prominent Hong Kong politician is environmental activist Eddie Chu, who is detained and faces long imprisonment for running in elections. Newsom should call for Chu’s release.
Newsom’s press release mentions that the trip is also meant to “combat xenophobia.” But in Xinjiang, Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are systematically persecuted by the government, abuses so widespread and systematic they constitute crimes against humanity. Both Uyghurs and Tibetans face cultural erasure and forced assimilation since Chinese President Xi Jinping rose to power. If Newsom wants to discuss combatting xenophobia, that would certainly entail speaking up for the rights of these oppressed communities.
A commitment to protecting the climate and diversity should include strong support for human rights. Governor Newsom should speak up for them in China.