Bannon dials down China criticism during Hong Kong visit

Protesters shouted anti-racism slogans outside a Hong Kong hotel yesterday ahead of a speech by former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon at an investor conference.
Protesters shouted anti-racism slogans outside a Hong Kong hotel yesterday ahead of a speech by former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon at an investor conference.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HONG KONG • In the White House, Mr Stephen Bannon helped shape President Donald Trump's nationalistic rhetoric that blamed China for economic woes in the United States.

Less than a month after leaving the government, Mr Bannon, the former chief strategist to Mr Trump, went to Hong Kong - at the invitation of brokerage firm CLSA - where he complimented China's leadership.

The visit was Mr Bannon's first high-profile overseas trip since he left the White House in August and returned to Breitbart News, the right-wing news outlet.

Mr Bannon had lunch yesterday with a small group of hedge fund managers and investors, and later gave a keynote address at a major investor conference.

He told the group that Mr Trump had great respect for China's President Xi Jinping, and felt that the two leaders could find a solution to the North Korea crisis, reported The New York Times.

Mr Bannon has not been shy about his views on China in the past. In an interview with 60 Minutes that was broadcast on Sunday, he said the US needed to take a tougher stance against Beijing.

He said that China was "at economic war with the US", and that it was Washington's turn to respond.

But during yesterday's events, Mr Bannon seemed more subdued about the purported Chinese threat, talking more broadly about global trade imbalance, according to people in attendance.

"Trump doesn't respect anyone more than the President of China," Mr Bannon was quoted as saying by CNN. "There is a lot of affinity between China and the US."

In his keynote address in a crowded Grand Hyatt ballroom, Mr Bannon discussed economic nationalism in the US and its spread across the globe, including in Britain.

Outside the hotel, a small group of protesters gathered, shouting anti-racism slogans.

CLSA initially said Mr Bannon's speech would be open to some media but later reversed its decision. A spokesman said the event was meant for invited clients only.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2017, with the headline 'Bannon dials down China criticism during HK visit'. Print Edition | Subscribe