As a confrontation between Hong Kong protesters and Chinese authorities escalates, Donald Trump has decided to turn up the heat a little himself. Trump had been oddly quiet about the pro-democracy protests in China’s administrative state, even though they have adopted the American flag as one of their symbols of protest. Over the last twenty-four hours, however, Trump has used his Twitter feed to urge Xi Jinping to have a “personal meeting” with protesters to resolve the standoff — and hinted at US trade action if Xi plans any other kind of response.
This began last night:
I know President Xi of China very well. He is a great leader who very much has the respect of his people. He is also a good man in a “tough business.” I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it. Personal meeting?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2019
“Personal meeting” could have been interpreted as an offer by Trump to meet with Xi. It caused some confusion in Beijing, as the official mouthpiece South China Morning Post hinted earlier today. This morning, Trump made his meaning more clear:
If President Xi would meet directly and personally with the protesters, there would be a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem. I have no doubt! https://t.co/eFxMjgsG1K
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2019
While Trump tried wooing Xi on Twitter, the administration began taking a tougher public stand on Beijing’s response to Hong Kong protests:
Trump’s tweet came a day after he tied a U.S. trade deal with China to a humane resolution of the weeks of protests wracking Hong Kong. He made that comment hours after the State Department said it was “deeply concerned” about reports of movement of Chinese paramilitary forces along the Hong Kong border. …
His apparently tougher stance on Wednesday 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, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that while an even-handed approach was smart, it was not the right signal to send in this case.
China thus far has not responded to Trump’s suggestion. It might be an awkward idea, especially since Beijing has been building such a cult of personality around Xi that to meet with him would automatically elevate the protesters to the level of his equal. It’s awkward enough to send the signal from the US that we expect Xi to resolve the issue peacefully and in accord with the 1997 agreement that transferred the enclave from the UK to China.
Meanwhile, China now says it wants Trump to meet them halfway on trade, a signal that they’re anxious for talks to proceed:
China on Thursday vowed to counter the latest United States tariffs on $300bn of Chinese goods, but called on the US to meet it halfway on a potential trade deal, as US President Donald Trump said any pact would have to be on America’s terms. …
In a separate statement, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said, “We hope the US will meet China halfway, and implement the consensus of the two heads of the two countries in Osaka.”
China hopes to find mutually acceptable solutions through dialogue and consultation on the basis of equality and mutual respect, she added.
Trump, who is seeking re-election in 2020 and had made the economy and his tough stance on China a key part of his 2016 campaign for the White House, on Thursday said any agreement must meet US demands.
“China, frankly, would love to make a deal, and it’s got to be a deal on proper terms. It’s got to be a deal, frankly, on our terms. Otherwise, what’s the purpose?” Trump said in an interview on New Hampshire radio station WGIR.
This could cut both ways. The new tariffs coming on September 1 violate an understanding reached during the G-20, China alleges, and they are threatening retaliation even after some of them were put off until mid-December. No one’s quite sure what that means, but perhaps Hon Kong protesters might be feeling a little nervous about that idea.