CHINA’S PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY this week released a propaganda video threatening military violence against protesters in Hong Kong. There are rumors of a growing military presence on the border between mainland China and its city-state, which, according to China’s past assurances, is meant to operate under a different (and freer) rule of law. In these circumstances, the United States should be doing everything possible to warn against a disastrous, Tiananmen-style crackdown. Instead, President Trump on Thursday effectively flashed a green light, referring to the mostly peaceful protests as “riots” that China has to “deal with . . . themselves.”

It’s not that Mr. Trump is unwilling to pressure China. This week, he was busy threatening new tariffs on imports from China and even criticizing that nation’s Communist dictator, Xi Jinping, for whom Mr. Trump is normally full of praise. But the pressure is purely mercantilist. Mr. Trump cares about how many U.S. soybeans China buys. He doesn’t care about China’s laying waste to human rights — its concentration camps in western China, its imprisonment and torture of human rights lawyers, its threats against Hong Kong’s freedoms.

A wiser president would care about both trade and liberty. A crackdown in Hong Kong would have dire consequences, not only for the many American businesses located there and the tens of thousands of Americans living there but also for China’s reputation in Congress and beyond. If Beijing cannot keep its commitment to “one country, two systems,” under which Hong Kong is meant to operate with autonomy, why would anyone trust other promises it makes? A president interested in constructive U.S.-China relations would be making that point — while pushing back on the absurd Chinese accusations that the United States is fomenting the protests in Hong Kong.

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In fact, people in Hong Kong began their protests when their leaders, who are unfailingly responsive to Beijing’s wishes, promoted legislation that would have allowed for the easy extradition of people from Hong Kong to mainland China, including for political purposes. The massive popular outpouring prompted the leaders to suspend, but not withdraw, the bill. Now the protests have blossomed into calls for more democracy, which China over the years has foolishly blocked. In an unprecedented display of independence, thousands of civil servants defied orders to remain politically neutral by protesting Hong Kong’s government on Friday. Financial employees and medical practitioners have also held rallies. More protests are scheduled for this weekend. But instead of looking for accommodation, the official response has included riot charges against a number of protesters that could lead to 10-year prison terms.

With Beijing amping up its pressure on Hong Kong and the White House taking the wrong side, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers — Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) — urged Mr. Trump to condemn China’s stance: “Failure to respond to Beijing’s threats [to Hong Kong] will only encourage Chinese leaders to act with impunity,” they wrote in an open letter. They are right.

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