The president urged Xi again in an exchange with reporters in Morristown, N.J., on Thursday evening, although he said he knew “it’s not the kind of thing he does.”
“I wouldn’t want to see a violent crackdown,” Trump said, adding that he believed Xi could work out a solution in 15 minutes if he were willing to meet with the protesters. “It really seems like things that could be worked out pretty quickly.”
Trump’s remarks came one day after he tweeted that he had “ZERO doubt” that Xi could “quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem” if he wanted to.
“Personal meeting?” Trump said. He did not clarify at the time whether he meant a meeting with himself or the protesters.
China’s government has recently likened the protests to “terrorism,” and a meeting between Xi and the demonstrators is unlikely.
Earlier this week, thousands of protesters shut down Hong Kong’s international airport, defying an intensifying police crackdown. But the protests were marred by late-night mob scenes, as demonstrators seized two men — one a reporter for Chinese state media, another they claimed to be a Chinese government agent — and clashed with police and paramedics who tried to evacuate the pair.
The episode marked a dramatic escalation after months of protests and marches by the demonstrators. They initially took to the streets in opposition to a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but as fears of Beijing’s erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy have grown, the scope of the protesters’ demands has widened.
Since its return to China from Britain in 1997, Hong Kong has operated under a “one country, two systems” policy that has afforded it a degree of autonomy. Under the terms of the handover, Hong Kong’s judicial, political and economic systems are to remain independent until 2047. But Beijing declared in 2014 that the agreement was merely “a historical document” that “no longer has any practical significance,” prompting a pushback from Britain and an international outcry.
That year, the city was gripped by large-scale demonstrations demanding democratic change. Those protests, called the “Umbrella Movement,” ended without concessions from the Hong Kong government, and several of the movement’s leaders were sentenced to prison.
Beijing has dismissed the latest outpouring of anger toward the Hong Kong government and police by describing the protests as a “color revolution” and claiming, without evidence, that they are part of a U.S.-backed “terrorist” scheme instigated by a handful of radicals.
The Chinese government also has begun massing a paramilitary force in the nearby southern city of Shenzhen, prompting U.S. lawmakers from both parties to warn Beijing against violently cracking down on the protests.
“The Administration must make clear to Beijing that any crackdown in Hong Kong will have profound consequences for China, including imposition of US sanctions, which was included in my amendment that passed the Senate as part of the National Defense Authorization Act,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said Wednesday in a tweet.
Gerry Shih and Timothy McLaughlin contributed to this report.