US President Donald Trump said Friday he had saved Hong Kong from being destroyed by persuading Chinese President Xi Jinping to hold off on sending in troops to crush its pro-democracy movement.
“If it weren’t for me, Hong Kong would have been obliterated in 14 minutes,” Trump said in a scattershot early morning interview with Fox News.
Trump’s comments come as he mulls signing congressionally-approved legislation in support of the pro-democracy activists – or bow to Beijing’s threats of retaliation if the law is enacted.
Asked whether he would veto the legislation, green-lit by an overwhelming margin in Congress on Wednesday, Trump equivocated.
“I’ll tell you we have to stand with Hong Kong but I’m also standing with President Xi. He is a friend of mine he is an incredible guy,” Trump said.
“I would like to see them work it out. We have to see them work it out,” he added.
Trump cast his relationship with Xi as the bulwark keeping China from moving against the pro-democracy movement that has rocked Hong Kong during almost six months of increasingly violent protests.
He added that a “million soldiers standing outside of Hong Kong are not going only because I asked him: ‘Please don’t do that. You will be making a big mistake. It will have a tremendous negative impact on the trade deal.’”
Trump acknowledged that the tension over the former British colony – handed back to China in 1997 – has complicated efforts to strike a trade deal with Beijing, a top Trump priority and source of economic uncertainty as Washington heads into an election year.
US and Chinese trade negotiators are “potentially very close” to a deal, he said.
Earlier in Beijing, Xi met a group of former US officials and other foreign dignitaries, including Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, ex-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Trump’s erstwhile economic advisor Gary Cohn.
“As we always said we don’t want to start the trade war but we are not afraid,” Xi said. “When necessary we will fight back but we have been working actively to try not to have a trade war.”
The Hong Kong bill awaiting Trump’s signature supports human rights and democracy in the city, while threatening to revoke its special economic status.
A separate measure bans the sale of tear gas, rubber bullets and other equipment used by the security forces to suppress pro-democracy protests.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi denounced the bill as “naked interference” in China’s internal affairs, and vowed retaliatory measures.
The law’s overwhelming passage, first by a unanimous vote in the Senate followed by a 417-1 vote in House of Representatives on Wednesday, underscored the rare bipartisan support for the measure in the US Congress.