- - Friday, August 9, 2019

China’s foreign ministry on Friday blasted State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus. The day before, Ms. Ortagus called China a “thuggish regime.”

The State Department’s harsh words were in response to Chinese targeting of an American diplomat stationed in Hong Kong and her family. Relations between Beijing and Washington have markedly deteriorated in recent weeks over various issues, especially the escalating protests in that territory, a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China.

“I don’t think that leaking an American diplomat’s private information, pictures, names of their children — I don’t think that’s a formal protest — that is what a thuggish regime would do,” Ms. Ortagus said at a press briefing Thursday. “That’s not how a responsible nation would behave.”

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Ms. Ortagus did not mention the name of the diplomat, but it was clear she was referring to Julie Eadeh, the chief political officer in the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong. On Tuesday at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, Ms. Eadeh met with Joshua Wong and other protest figures. The subject of the talks, according to Mr. Wong, was the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, a bill in Congress, and the U.S. sale of tear gas to the Hong Kong government.

Soon after, Ta Kung Pao, a pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper that often carries Beijing’s positions, ran a photo of the meeting and released Ms. Eadeh’s personal details.

Beijing had apparently launched a coordinated attack. China Central Television, the Chinese state broadcaster, called the American diplomat “the behind-the-scenes black hand creating chaos in Hong Kong.”

Chinese officials immediately chimed in.

“There were reports suggesting Julie Eadeh is a trained subversion expert at the US consulate in Hong Kong,” Chen Weihua, bureau chief of the official China Daily, tweeted Thursday morning. “Her meeting with HK protesters would be evidence of US inciting and instigating the riots in Hong Kong. Is she under the direct order of former CIA chief Mike Pompeo?”

“The black hand was caught red-handed!” tweeted Lijian Zhao, a Chinese diplomat in Islamabad, who also used language similar to Mr. Chen’s.

In addition, China on Thursday summoned “senior officials” of the consulate in Hong Kong to lodge “stern representations” over the meeting with what the Global Times, a tabloid controlled by People’s Daily, called “Hong Kong secessionist forces.”

Beijing, of course, has every right to file a protest, but its release of a diplomat’s personal information is out of bounds. That, Ms. Ortagus correctly said, is “completely unacceptable.”

It is also lawless, despicable and dangerous.

Especially dangerous, in the context of the increasing violence in Hong Kong. The demonization of an American official and the naming of her husband and young children can only be described as an incitement to injure, wound, maim or kill.

Activists have accused Beijing of encouraging, by similar signaling, vicious attacks by about 100 white-shirted thugs on July 21 in Yuen Long, in Hong Kong’s New Territories. The attack in the Mass Transit Railway station left 45 bloodied.

In any event, it’s clear American diplomats and their families, now being targeted by Beijing officials, are no longer safe on Chinese soil.

China is more than just talk. Last spring, American diplomats assigned to the Guangzhou consulate suffered brain injuries caused by mysterious sonic attacks. Because Beijing runs a semi-totalitarian surveillance state, Chinese officials were either perpetrators of the attacks or complicit in them.

More violence against Americans is undoubtedly on the way. The targeting of Ms. Eadeh and her children is an indication that Beijing’s mid-May declaration of a “people’s war” against the U.S. — People’s Daily and Xinhua News Agency both carried the declaration run by Global Times — was more than just a propaganda blast.

At the moment, Washington has to assume Beijing will continue its campaign to injure U.S. diplomats. Because the U.S. government cannot adequately protect them, Washington should begin pulling personnel and dependents out of China.

There is no point in leaving potential hostages in the country. Beijing has shown what it is capable of. It has, for instance, detained and held for months the “two Michaels,” Canadians Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman. They are being held in apparent retaliation for the lawful detention, at the request of the U.S., of Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou.

China cannot acknowledge that it has, by its own actions, lost hearts and minds across Hong Kong society. The inflammatory and baseless allegations against Washington in general and Ms. Eadeh in particular show that Beijing is lashing out, desperately seeking an enemy.

The People’s Republic is a lawless, criminal state. It does not belong in the community of nations.

And it is wrong to ask the representatives of our government to put themselves and their dependents in harm’s way.

• Gordon G. Chang is the author of “The Coming Collapse of China.” Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.

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