In a June phone call, Donald Trump promised Chinese President Xi Jinping that the United States would not object to a Chinese crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong — a crackdown that now appears to be taking place as protests continued Wednesday. Police fired tear gas into a crowd of protesters in the city’s residential Sham Shui Po neighborhood, and they also stormed demonstrators who had effectively shut down Hong Kong’s main airport, according to a CNN report.
Chinese state media circulated video Wednesday showing a state-sponsored paramilitary group going through training exercises in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, the closest major city to Hong Kong, in what CNN reported was a clear message that the Chinese government is ready to crush protests in Hong Kong with military force if local riot police fail to quell the unrest.
But in his phone call with Xi prior to the G20 summit in June, Trump told Xi that the U.S. would not condemn any Chinese effort to shut down the pro-democracy protests. In the phone call, Trump asked nothing in return from the Chinese leader, according to a blockbuster report by Politico on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, as police continued to clash violently with protesters, Trump posted a message on Twitter praising Xi as “a great leader who very much has the respect of his people.” Trump said that he had “ZERO doubt” that Xi could “quickly and humanely” solve the Hong Kong crisis.
The Politico report prompted one member of Congress, Virginia Democrat Don Beyer, to post on his own Twitter feed, charging that Trump “secretly gave a green light for anti-Democratic repression and human rights violations” to China in Hong Kong.
The June phone call between Trump and Xi had earlier been reported by The Financial Times. But the FT report in July said that Trump made the promise to Xi “in order to revive trade talks with China.”
But Politico on Wednesday reported that Trump “made no explicit linkage to trade,” according to Politico White House reporter Eliana Johnson, via Twitter. According to Politico, Trump’s pledge to Xi was a “unilateral concession.”
Trump’s commitment to keep the U.S. out of the Hong Kong pro-democracy crisis left his top advisers stunned and confused, Politico reported. Many of those advisers, led by National Security Adviser John Bolton, have pushed Trump to take a stronger stance against the Chinese crackdown on the protests. In fact, on Wednesday, Bolton broke his own silence to warn China to “look very carefully at the steps they take,” as quoted by The Hill.
Bolton urged the Chinese government to avoid a repeat of the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989, warning, “It would be a big mistake to create a new memory like that in Hong Kong.”