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Hong Kong is a Reagan 'tear down this wall' moment, says one-time GOP presidential candidate

Key Points
  • The pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong are a moral issue for the United States, says Scott Walker, a former two-term Wisconsin governor.
  • Walker argues that it's "a moment like when Ronald Reagan stood at the Berlin Wall and said, 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
  • "This is one of those moments where it's a gut check for America," says Walker, as protests in Hong Kong show no sign of letting up.
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Former Governor Scott Walker: Hong Kong protests are a 'gut check' for the US

The escalating pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong against the territory's China-backed government could turn into a generation-defining moment, Republican Scott Walker told CNBC on Friday.

Walker, who unsuccessfully sought the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, compared the movement in Hong Kong to the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall — which happened about two years after then-President Ronald Reagan delivered his famous address at the Brandenburg Gate, demanding then-Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev "tear down this wall."

"When it comes to Hong Kong, it's a moral imperative — a moment like when Ronald Reagan stood at the Berlin Wall and said, 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,'" Walker, a former two-term governor of Wisconsin, said on "Squawk Box."

Former US President Ronald Reagan (center) gives a speech in front of the Berlin wall at the Brandenburg gate in Berlin, Germany, June 12, 1987. German chancellor Helmut Kohl and then president of the parliament Philipp Jenninger can be seen next to him. Reagan voiced the famous words "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Dieter Klar | picture alliance | Getty Images

Walker drew that parallel, considering how citizens in Hong Kong are standing up to communist China in a similar way to how Germans took to the streets and demanded freedom and democracy from Soviet-backed communist East Germany in advance of the Berlin Wall coming down, which became a symbol of the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union a couple of years later.

On Friday, the unrest in Hong Kong showed no signs of letting up, with officials in the Chinese territory bracing for potentially violent demonstrations over the weekend. Protesters have been rallying since June against a suspended bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

However, the scope of the discontent has expanded to encompass issues of civil rights and democracy. When Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997, Beijing promised not to change Hong Kong's economic and political systems until 2047.

"This is one of those moments where it's a gut check for America," said Walker — as President Donald Trump this past weekend said that if China were to crack down on the Hong Kong protests with violence, a trade deal with Beijing "would be very hard." Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike have come out in support of the demonstrators.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed the president's remarks in a Tuesday interview on CNBC, warning China against anything approaching a Tiananmen Square-type response. In 1989, Chinese troops stormed Tiananmen Square in the center of Beijing to break up a mass pro-democracy demonstration, killing what's believed to be at least 10,000 people.

"I think it's more of a moral issue than a trade issue," said Walker, referring to how China might act in Hong Kong, a major financial hub in Asia that has been hurt economically by the protests. Earlier this month, mass demonstrations crippled operations and forced the cancellation of flights out of Hong Kong International Airport, one of the world's busiest.

However, Walker said he does see how the protests and the escalating U.S.-China trade war can get intertwined. "If we can't trust China to fulfill promises made in legitimate elections and legitimate government in Hong Kong, how can you trust them to fulfill the commitments they might make for trade?" he posed. "The two go hand in hand."