President Donald Trump on Wednesday tied a U.S. trade deal with China to humane resolution of the weeks of protests wracking Hong Kong, hours after the State Department said it was “deeply concerned” about reports of movement of Chinese paramilitary forces along the Hong Kong border.
The State Department warned that continued erosion of the territory’s autonomy put at risk the preferential status it enjoys under U.S. law.
Trump, in his remarks on Twitter, appeared to suggest a personal meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping to help resolve the crisis.
“Of course China wants to make a deal. Let them work humanely with Hong Kong first!” Trump said on Twitter. “I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it. Personal meeting?”
Trump, who has been seeking a major deal to correct trade imbalances with China ahead of his 2020 reelection bid, has faced mounting criticism from Congress and elsewhere for not taking a stronger public line on Hong Kong and for his characterization of the protests earlier this month as “riots” that were a matter for China to deal with.
Trump’s tougher stance followed an internal debate within the White House and State Department over whether the United States was looking too compliant as the Chinese appeared to be preparing for a crackdown.
A source familiar with the deliberations said while an even-handed approach was smart it was not the right signal to send in this case.
Earlier, a State Department spokeswoman said the United States was “deeply concerned” about reports of paramilitary movements along the Hong Kong border and reiterated a U.S. call for all sides to refrain from violence.
She said it was important for the Hong Kong government to respect “freedoms of speech and peaceful