Trump: Crackdown against Hong Kong protesters could sink China trade talks

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President Donald Trump stopped to speak with reporters ahead of his return to the White House on Sunday after spending the week at his golf resort in New Jersey, and it comes as no surprise that his trade war and ongoing negotiations with China — particularly with regard to the widespread protests in Hong Kong — came up repeatedly in the back-and-forth.

The president issued a not-so-subtle warning to China that a potential deal to end the tariffs and trade tensions currently impacting China’s economy would be significantly more difficult to achieve if the communist Chinese government were to violently crack down on the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Trump remains hopeful on Hong Kong

Trump opened up with a conciliatory statement toward China with respect to the tariffs and trade deal negotiations, and said, “I’d like to see Hong Kong worked out in a very humanitarian fashion.”

“I hope President Xi can do it. He sure has the ability, I can tell you that, from personal knowledge. He certainly has the ability to do it if he wants to,” he continued. “So, I’d like to see that worked out in a humanitarian fashion. I think it would be very good for the trade deal that we’re talking about.”

A moment later, Trump was asked about his reported “progress” on reaching a trade deal with China, and though he didn’t mention Hong Kong by name, it was obvious that the protesters were still on his mind.

Trump said of President Xi, “So I think he has at least something in mind, having to do with trade, because it’s something he could do fairly easily. It could be, unfortunately, very ruthless. So I do think it plays on his mind, and I do think he — he’s thinking about what I’ve had to say. It would have an impact on trade; there’s no question about it.”

Avoiding “another Tiananmen Square”

The topic of Hong Kong came up again a short while later when Trump was asked directly if he had seen video of the latest protests over the weekend, in which upwards of 2 million people had taken to the streets in protest of the communist regime and its attempted power-grabs into the semi-autonomous city-state.

The president was reminded of his recent remarks suggesting that China and Hong Kong needed to get together and sort out their differences themselves, and he was asked if he’d had a change of heart on that stance. Unstated, but clearly implied, was the question of whether China’s actions toward Hong Kong would have an impact on the ongoing trade deal negotiations.

Trump said, “No, I think it would be very hard to deal if they do violence. I mean, if it’s another Tiananmen Square, it’s — I think it’s a very hard thing to do if there’s violence.” He further noted that if China were to act violently against Hong Kong, there would also likely be a shift in political sentiment against making a deal.

Trade deal hangs in the balance

Asked if he supported the pro-democracy protesters in their struggle to remain autonomous from China, the president replied, “Well, I’ll tell you what I do support: I support liberty. I support democracy. I understand what’s going on very well over there. I’d love to see it worked out in a humane fashion. And I think they have a great chance of doing it.”

Trump expressed confidence in Xi’s ability to reach a viable resolution with Hong Kong, but reiterated that if that “something” were negative, it would put “pressure” on a potential trade deal, and said, “I think it would be much harder for me to sign a deal if he did something violent in Hong Kong.”

All eyes around the globe are watching China and Hong Kong, and there are a lot of important ancillary matters riding on precisely how the ongoing protests are handled, but President Trump has made it very clear that China should refrain from using violent force to quash those demonstrations, unless it is prepared to suffer the economic consequences of doing so.

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