President Donald Trump has said that China must treat Hong Kong “humanely” before the US would consider making a trade deal with Beijing.
On Twitter on Wednesday night, following weeks of unrest in Hong Kong and fears of a full-blown trade war, the US president said: “Of course China wants to make a deal. Let them work humanely with Hong Kong first!”.
Calling China’s president Xi Jinping a “good man”, Trump said “I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it.”
“Personal meeting?” he added in what appeared to be an idea for offering his own help to Xi directly. His comments signalled a change in tone from the president, who has faced criticism from Congress and elsewhere for not taking a stronger public line on Hong Kong.
He characterised the protests earlier this month as “riots” that were a matter for China to deal with.
Trump on Tuesday had said that the situation in Hong Kong was tricky, but he hoped it would be resolved “for liberty” without anyone getting hurt or killed.
Protesters have staged 10 weeks of relentless marches and demonstrations to demand greater freedoms in Hong Kong, including rallies that paralysed the semi-autonomous city’s airport, one of the world’s busiest travel hubs.
A US state department spokeswoman said on Wednesday that the United States was “deeply concerned” about Chinese paramilitary movement along the Hong Kong border.
The expression of concern came after senior US lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties called on Trump to take a tougher line with China as worries grew over a possible Chinese intervention.
Trump has been seeking to correct trade imbalances with China. He began raising tariffs on Chinese good last year in the hope of winning concessions from Beijing on opening up markets for US companies, intellectual property and forced transfer of technology.
Talks have so far failed to resolve the issue and Trump’s latest gambit on Hong Kong follows his decision this week to delay the imposition of tariffs on all remaining Chinese goods until December, rather than the threatened date of September.