Hong Kong protests: Trump says that Beijing's handling of anti-government demonstrations could affect trade talks with China

South China Morning Post

The US President said it would be a 'bad' thing for negotiations and denied reports that he promised Xi Jinping he would stay silent on HK

South China Morning Post |

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Donald Trump takes questions from White House reporters in Washington on Monday.

US President Donald Trump said that trade talks with China could be impacted if anything "bad" happened with the way authorities are handling anti-govermnment protests in Hong Kong.

Addressing reporters at the White House on Monday, Trump offered no elaboration on what would constitute something “bad”, but he called on Beijing to deal with the protests in a “peaceful” and “humane” manner.

Defying mask ban, tens of thousands of Hongkongers hold weekend demonstrations

“If anything happened bad, I think that would be a very bad thing for the [trade] negotiation[s],” said Trump. “I think politically it would be very tough, maybe for us and maybe for some others and maybe for [Chinese President Xi Jinping]”.

The US leader also denied media reports that he had promised to Xi during a telephone call earlier this year that he would remain silent on the protests in Hong Kong while trade negotiations were ongoing.

CNN reported last week that records of the June call were placed in a highly-classified filing system, limiting the number of White House officials able to access them.

US President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have led their countries through an ever-worsening trade war.
Photo: AFP

High-level trade negotiations, led on the Chinese side by vice premier Liu He, are set to kick off on Thursday in Washington, days before an increase in US tariffs on US$250 billion of Chinese goods goes into effect.

During Monday’s remarks, which followed the signing of a US-Japan trade deal, Trump went from optimism and pessimism about the likelihood of a deal emerging from those talks.

“We think there’s a chance that we could do something very substantial,” he said in response to a question about whether he expected any new offers from China’s negotiators. Trump said Liu’s team was coming to Washington “to make a deal”.

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Minutes later, however, his forecast of both sides successfully brokering a comprehensive deal this week had changed to “maybe” and then to “probably unlikely”.

Trump’s position on the Hong Kong protests has also been difficult to pin down.

Trump, who had previously avoided weighing in on the unrest and called it an internal matter for China to handle alone, gave his strongest statement on the situation during the United Nations General Assembly meetings in September, when he warned that how China chose to handle the situation “will say a great deal about its role in the world in the future”.
On Monday, the US leader said that Hong Kong was “very important as a world hub”, and repeated a suggestion he first made in August for Xi to meet personally with “leaders” of the city’s pro-democracy movement, which features no prominent leadership.
Appearing to enjoy the fact that protesting Hong Kongers have waved US flags and brandished signs that made direct references to him, Trump applauded both the “signage” and the “spirit” of demonstrators, and suggested that diminishing crowd sizes on the city’s streets were a sign of progress.
Yet recent weeks have only seen tensions between protesters and police in Hong Kong flare, punctuated by the shootings of two young demonstrators with live police rounds and the enactment over the weekend of emergency laws banning the use of face masks in public.
On Friday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Bloomberg that the US supported the pro-democracy protests “very strongly”, and said that the movement “could impinge” on this week’s talks.