WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President Donald Trump said he has personally saved Hong Kong from being "obliterated," sparing thousands of lives, though he declined to say whether he will support a US Bill backing pro-democracy protesters.
Trump, in a phone interview with the Fox & Friends programme on Friday morning (Nov 22), said the ongoing Hong Kong protests are "a complicating factor" in trade talks between the US and China, and argued that the US position has effectively blocked Chinese President Xi Jinping from a violent crackdown.
"If it weren't for me, Hong Kong would have been obliterated in 14 minutes," Trump said. "He's got a million soldiers standing outside of Hong Kong that aren't going in only because I asked him, 'Please don't do that, you'll be making a big mistake, it's going to have a tremendous negative impact on the trade deal.' And he wants to make a trade deal."
When asked, Trump declined to say whether he would sign into law a Bill in support of the protesters that passed unanimously in the Senate and with support from all but one Republican in the House. Trump said he stands both with the protesters and Xi.
"We have to stand with Hong Kong but I'm also standing with President Xi, he's a friend of mine, he's an incredible guy," Trump said.
"I stand with Hong Kong, I stand with freedom, I stand with all of the things we want to do. But we're also in the process of making the largest trade deal in history. And if we could do that, that would be great. China wants it, we want it."
Trump's comments came as markets watch for any sign that the US and China can close a "phase one" deal, and whether it will include a full or partial rollback of tariffs that Trump has applied to imports of Chinese goods.
Trump said on Friday there is "a very good chance" of reaching a deal, but said that it can't be equal for both sides because he's looking to eliminate what he views as unfair advantages for China.
China's Xi said earlier on Friday that his nation wants to work toward a phase one agreement on the "basis of mutual respect and equality," his first comments on the partial deal he could potentially sign with Trump.
"I didn't like his word 'equality' because we started off so low," Trump said on Fox, after Xi's remarks.
The Trump administration has import taxes in place on some US$360 billion (S$490 billion) in goods from China and has threatened to impose new levies Dec 15.
"If it weren't for me, thousands of people would have been killed in Hong Kong right now, and you wouldn't have any riots, you'd have a police state. But thousands of people," Trump said on Friday. "The only reason he's not going in is because I'm saying it's going to affect our trade deal."
SIGN, OR NOT
The Hong Kong Bill, which would require annual reviews of the city's special trading status under US law, passed unanimously in the Senate and with only one Republican opposing it in the House. Trump now has the option to sign it into law or allow it to become law without his signature by taking no action for 10 days.
Alternatively, he could return it to Congress with a veto. At that point, Congress can override the veto with two-thirds votes in both chambers. Congress failed to override previous Trump vetoes on legislation regarding Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat and co-sponsor of the Hong Kong Bill, said the measure "absolutely" has enough bipartisan support to override a veto.
"This will become law no matter what," Van Hollen said in an interview.
Kaylin Minton, a spokeswoman for Representative Michael McCaul, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an e-mail that he had not heard from the White House about Trump's intentions. She noted that the Bill passed Congress with only a single "no" vote in either chamber.
"We will reserve judgment on next steps until we hear from the administration but McCaul fully supports this becoming law," she said.