President Donald Trump has been asking his advisers how unrest in Hong Kong is likely to unfold, according to senior administration officials — and some are warning that without a firmer US position there could be a bloodbath.
That includes national security adviser John Bolton and senior officials at the National Security Council. The White House and Trump have also heard from lawmakers, including those close to the administration like South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham that inaction or caution in calling out China could end poorly.
Trump’s response to Hong Kong’s ongoing violence has remained largely muted, the officials said, in part because of concern about ongoing trade talks with Beijing. But with growing Republican frustration on Capitol Hill about his reticence, the President has shown flickering signs of adopting a firmer tone on China.
On Thursday morning, Trump once again appealed to President X Jinping’s pride, tweeting that “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!”
The President’s restraint in warning Beijing comes as China’s ambassador to the UK warned Thursday that his government won’t hesitate to intervene in Hong Kong, and Beijing maintains its build-up of troops on the border of the former British colony.
On Wednesday, Bolton issued a warning to China that it risks global wrath if its crackdown takes a more aggressive turn.
“The Chinese have to look very carefully at the steps they take because people in America remember Tiananmen Square, they remember the picture the man standing in front of the line of tanks,” he told Voice of America in an interview, referencing the 1989 protests that Beijing brutally suppressed. “It would be a big mistake to create a new memory like that in Hong Kong.”
The State Department also spoke up Wednesday, saying the “United States is deeply concerned by reports of Chinese paramilitary movement along the Hong Kong border,” urging restraint and issuing a warning to Beijing about what it is risking.
The statement “strongly” urged Beijing to stick to its commitments in the Sino-British Joint Declaration to allow Hong Kong to exercise a high degree of autonomy and said the concerns of its citizens are legitimate. The State Department also rejected Beijing’s attempts to paint the protests as US-driven or organized and included a warning to China that it could undermine Hong Kong’s status as a global financial center.
“The ongoing demonstrations in Hong Kong reflect the sentiment of Hongkongers and their broad and legitimate concerns about the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy,” the statement said. “We categorically reject the false charge of foreign forces as the black hand behind the protests. The continued erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy puts at risk its long-established special status in international affairs.”
Previously, administration officials had been advised by senior White House aides to adopt a more measured tone on Hong Kong, according to people familiar with the matter.