WASHINGTON/BEIJING • US President Donald Trump on Sunday warned China that carrying out a Tiananmen Square-style crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters would harm trade talks between the two countries.
"I think it'd be very hard to deal if they do violence, I mean, if it's another Tiananmen Square," he told reporters in New Jersey.
"I think it's a very hard thing to do if there's violence."
Responding to Mr Trump, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said yesterday: "Hong Kong affairs are China's internal affairs. We have noticed that President Trump has previously stated that Hong Kong is part of China, and China can solve problems there without any advice. We hope the United States can mean what they say."
The months-long trade dispute between the US and China has been blamed for setting world financial markets on edge, amid signs of a possible global economic slowdown.
Mr Trump's comments came as Washington and Beijing look to revive pivotal talks aimed at ending their trade war.
Mr Geng added: "Our position on China-US economic and trade consultations has been consistent and clear. We hope the US and the Chinese side will work together to implement the consensus of the Osaka meeting between the two heads of state and, on the basis of mutual respect and equality, find a mutually acceptable solution through dialogue and consultation."
Phone calls for a "substantive renewal of negotiations" between both countries are planned for the next 10 days, and if those are successful, negotiations could resume, US National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow said on Fox News on Sunday.
But this has left uncertain as to whether a Chinese delegation would be headed to Washington next month, which a White House spokesman predicted would happen after US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin left a round of trade talks in Shanghai last month.
Hong Kong affairs are China's internal affairs. We have noticed that President Trump has previously stated that Hong Kong is part of China, and China can solve problems there without any advice.
We hope the US can mean what they say.
MR GENG SHUANG, spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, responding to US President Donald Trump's comments that it would be "hard to deal with" if China carried out a Tiananmen Square-style crackdown on Hong Kong protesters.
But Mr Kudlow emphasised that phone conversations held last week to follow up on the Shanghai talks were "a lot more positive than has been reported in the media".
The US-China negotiations had begun in earnest in January and seemed at first to make substantial progress, raising hopes that a trade deal could be rapidly reached. But during the spring, the US President abruptly called off the talks, saying the Chinese side had reneged on earlier commitments.
The discussions resumed in June along the margins of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Osaka, Japan, between Mr Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
But markets were hit with a fresh surprise when Mr Trump suddenly announced that as of Sept 1, he was imposing punitive 10 per cent tariffs on US$300 billion (S$415 billion) in Chinese goods that had so far been spared.
And then came the announcement from the White House that Mr Trump had decided to delay imposing the tariffs until Dec 15, so as not to cast a shadow on the Christmas shopping plans of Americans.
Hong Kong has meanwhile been dealing with more than two months of protests, and on Sunday saw a crowd - which organisers said numbered some 1.7 million people - march peacefully in the city despite rising unrest and stark warnings from Beijing.
Chinese state media has run images of military personnel and armoured personnel carriers in Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong.
In the bloody 1989 crackdown in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, China deployed tanks to end student-led protests, resulting in an estimated death toll of hundreds if not thousands.
If such a situation was repeated in Hong Kong, "I think there'd be... tremendous political sentiment not to do something", Mr Trump said, referring to the trade negotiations with China.
Under a deal signed with Britain, China agreed to allow Hong Kong to keep its unique freedoms when the former crown colony was handed back in 1997. But many Hong Kongers feel those freedoms are being chipped away, especially since Mr Xi came to power in China.
Mr Trump stopped short of endorsing the protesters, saying, "I'd love to see it worked out in a humane fashion", and calling on Mr Xi to negotiate with them.
The protests have plunged the financial hub into a crisis, stunning a city once renowned for its stability.
The unrest was sparked by widespread opposition to a Bill for allowing extraditions to the Chinese mainland, but has since morphed into a broader call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city.
Sunday's march, billed as a return to the peaceful origins of the leaderless protest movement, was one of the largest rallies since the protests began about three months ago, according to the organisers, the Civil Human Rights Front.