Trump says trade talks complicate Hong Kong support bill
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump suggested Friday that he might veto legislation designed to support pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong — despite its near-unanimous support in the House and Senate — to pave the way for a trade deal with China.
Speaking on the “Fox & Friends” morning TV program, the president said he was balancing competing priorities in the U.S.-China relationship.
“We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi (Jinping); he’s a friend of mine. He’s an incredible guy, but we have to stand ... I’d like to see them work it out, OK?” the president said. “I stand with freedom, I stand with all of the things that I want to do, but we are also in the process of making one of the largest trade deals in history. And if we could do that, it would be great.”
Trump also asserted that if it weren’t for him, China would have responded to the unrest in Hong Kong with brutality, potentially killing thousands in the process. “The only reason he’s not going in is because I’m saying, ‘It’s going to affect our trade deal, you don’t want to do that,’ ” Trump said.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, slammed Trump’s refusal to commit to the legislation.
“For a guy who promised to be tough on China, President Trump’s reliable deference to President Xi is all the more bewildering,” Schumer said. “Being tough on China when it comes to human rights will also help us win the battle on trade.”
China has warned it will retaliate against the U.S. if Trump signs the bill supporting the Hong Kong protests.
The House on Wednesday passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act by a vote of 417-1. The lone holdout was Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky. That came one day after the Senate had approved the bill on a unanimous vote.
The veto-proof majorities indicate that Congress could overrule the president if he tries to block the bill from becoming law.
“If he does veto this bill, sacrificing American values in the process, Congress should immedi
ately and overwhelmingly override,” tweeted Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, who has often backed Trump’s trade policies.
Once a bill is passed by both chambers of Congress, the president has 10 days to sign it into law or veto it. If he does neither, it will become law automatically. That means Trump has until after Thanksgiving to make a decision.
The legislation authorizes sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials involved in human rights abuses and requires the State Department to conduct an annual review of the special autonomous status that the U.S. grants Hong Kong in trade matters.
The Hong Kong bill threatens to complicate trade negotiations that already are stalled on several key issues. Chinese officials have criticized the congressional action as unwanted interference in their country’s internal affairs. Vice President Mike Pence said this week it would be “very hard” to finalize a trade deal if China resorts to violence to put down the protests, now in their sixth month.
China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, ending more than 150 years of British colonial rule. Maintaining control over the prosperous enclave, which Beijing governs under “the one-country, two-systems framework,” is a top priority for Xi.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong, protesters trickled out of a besieged university campus Friday as a weeklong siege appeared close to an end, while the city geared up for local elections that pose a test of public support for the prodemocracy movement. Associated Press contributed.
Hong Kong office workers support pro-democracy protesters in a lunchtime rally Friday.