World_news Trump Says ‘Hong Kong Is Not Helping’ in Trade War With China – The New York Times


President Trump made his most extensive comments yet on Hong Kong’s protest movement, and suggested that its fate be tied to a trade deal.


CreditCreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

HONG KONG — In his most extensive comments on the months of unrest in Hong Kong, President Trump said on Wednesday that China should “humanely” settle the situation before a trade deal is reached.

His comments, delivered on Twitter, for the first time tied the fate of pro-democracy protesters to a trade deal with China, a top administration priority.

Mr. Trump praised President Xi Jinping of China as “a great leader” and suggested a “personal meeting” could help solve the crisis in Hong Kong. He also said “China is not our problem, though Hong Kong is not helping.”

“Of course China wants to make a deal,” he said. “Let them work humanely with Hong Kong first!”

He reiterated his support for Mr. Xi again on Thursday, saying that if the Chinese leader met personally with the protesters “there would be a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem.”

[Here’s a guide to why people are protesting in Hong Kong and how the movement has evolved.]

Though the protests have been going on for more than two months, as demonstrators have filled streets and jammed airport terminals in actions that have frequently ended with violent police crackdowns, Mr. Trump had all but ignored the situation, offering just tepid, short statements. His comments on Wednesday stopped short of praising or supporting the protesters, as both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have done, and he did not explain what he meant by “humanely” working with Hong Kong.

One day earlier, Mr. Trump took no stance when asked by reporters.

“The Hong Kong thing is a very tough situation,” he said on Tuesday. “Very tough. We’ll see what happens. But I’m sure it’ll work out.”

He added: “I hope it works out for everybody, including China. I hope it works out peacefully. I hope nobody gets hurt. I hope nobody gets killed.”

He had previously called the protests “riots,” repeating language used by the Chinese government that is strongly disputed by protesters, and said, “That’s between Hong Kong and that’s between China, because Hong Kong is a part of China.”

[Phone checks at Hong Kong’s border worry travelers to mainland China.]

The White House’s restraint on the issue has stood out in Washington, where the protests have been the source of a rare sight: broad bipartisan agreement.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader; Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader; and Marco Rubio are among the Republicans who have put out full-throated statements in support of the protests. Across the aisle, Nancy Pelosi, the House majority leader; Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader; and most of the Democratic nominees for president have done the same.

The protesters, initially stirred in opposition to a proposed law that would allow extraditions to mainland China, have expanded their demands to include universal suffrage, an independent investigation of the police’s handling of the demonstrations, and amnesty for hundreds of arrested protesters. The protests have been mostly peaceful but have occasionally turned violent, including a chaotic scene at the airport Tuesday when demonstrators attacked two men from mainland China, including a journalist.

The police have routinely used tear gas, pepper spray and batons to disperse protesters. Hong Kong officials have resisted an independent commission of inquiry into police tactics, some of which have been condemned by international groups including the United Nations Human Rights office, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The government asserts that an investigation already underway by a police watchdog is adequate, but critics say the body is staffed with pro-government figures.

Nor have officials indicated any willingness to submit to the protesters’ demands, increasing fears that the impasse could lead to a bloody, Tiananmen-style crackdown by Beijing. Mr. Trump tweeted on Tuesday that the Chinese government had moved troops to the border with Hong Kong, and encouraged everyone to be “calm and safe.”

A garrison of soldiers with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is stationed in Hong Kong, but most observers consider it unlikely that Beijing would use it to squelch protests unless as a last resort, as it would all but destroy the territory’s autonomy and could have a devastating economic impact.

In online forums popular with protesters in Hong Kong, people largely welcomed Mr. Trump’s most recent comments on Wednesday but expressed concern that the United States would not take any more significant actions. China has accused foreign countries, primarily the United States, of secretly being behind the protest movement.

“Every time Hong Kong has large-scale protests, not only is Washington involved but there also many American organizations at the forefront actively supporting the protesters,” Zhao Kejin, an international studies expert at China’s Tsinghua University, said during a briefing on Thursday organized by the government in Beijing. “This is the root of why Hong Kong has become chaotic.”

It is an accusation that is strongly denied by American officials and laughed at by protesters, who say they can organize demonstrations without help.

Few protesters expect the United States to swoop in and solve the crisis. Instead, they have urged foreign governments to impose sanctions against China or halt the export of crowd control equipment to the Hong Kong police.

One of them, Fiona Tsui, 23, said she was happy to see Mr. Trump paying attention, but didn’t believe the White House would jeopardize a trade deal for the sake of the Hong Kong people.

“I hope they can put basic universal principles and moralities above their economic gains,” she said.

A handful of protesters have waved American flags at demonstrations, typically seen as signaling support for democracy more than an allegiance to the country.

“Like many protesters, we want Trump to liberate Hong Kong and to pass laws that will help the democratization of our city,” Brian Chan, who held a large American flag, said during a march on July 21. “We need international help, and America is the only country with the means and possibly the incentive to sanction China. They are already at trade war, and I believe that China is at the losing side.”

Katherine Li contributed reporting.

Daniel Victor is a Hong Kong-based reporter, covering a wide variety of stories with a focus on breaking news. He joined The Times in 2012 from ProPublica. @bydanielvictor

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