President Donald Trump has offered only sparse comments in response to this month’s protests in Hong Kong, during which as many as 2 million people filled the streets to fight against a China-extradition bill that would increase Beijing’s legal authority over the Hong Kong region.
After the first wave of protests, which began on June 9, the president said he was impressed by the sheer number of demonstrators and by their conviction. However, Trump stopped short of expressing support for the demonstrations, or criticizing Beijing.
“I looked today and that really is a million people,” Trump said, on June 10, “When you look at this demonstration, they said it was a million people. That was a million people.” Trump continued, “I hope it all works out for China and for Hong Kong. I understand the reason for the demonstration, but I’m sure they will be able to work it out.”
The United States maintains an uneasy relationship with Beijing amid escalating tensions over trade. Trump and China’s Party Secretary Xi Jinping will meet in person on Saturday in Osaka, Japan, as both conclude their schedules at the G-20 Summit.
Trump said the United States is prepared for a prolonged trade war with China. He is threatening to double the number of Chinese imports currently subject to tariffs until a new trade agreement is reached.
While trade negotiations are certain to dominate Saturday’s meeting, senior members of Trump’s administration have indicated that Hong Kong’s civil rights, and its relative independence, are important to the president.
U.S. State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus responded to the Hong Kong protests during a press briefing, Wednesday, June 12, saying, “Of course we think these peaceful protests are incredibly important and it’s important for the Hong Kong government to respect the freedom of expression, respect the right to peacefully assemble.”
This week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he expects Trump to raise the subject of Hong Kong in Saturday’s meeting with Xi, stating in an interview with Fox News Sunday, June 23, “I’m sure this will be among the issues that we discuss. We have a wide range of very important issues in the way China and the United States interact.”
Groups of pro-Hong Kong demonstrators in Osaka gathered in front of foreign embassies this week, in the hopes that world leaders would speak out in support of Hong Kong freedoms. Facing the U.S. Consulate, demonstrators held signs that read, “President Trump please liberate Hong Kong” and “Back Hong Kong at the G20 Summit.”
China-extradition law pushed back, for now
As many as 2 million people in Hong Kong filled the streets on Sunday, June 16, in an unprecedented, citywide protest against the controversial extradition bill that would increase Beijing’s ability to arrest and extradite people in Hong Kong who are suspected of a crime.
The people of Hong Kong see this as a clear encroachment upon their rights by China’s authoritarian government in Beijing. Many in Hong Kong fear that this law could be used as a political weapon and target anyone whom China’s communist party views as a political opponent, and this could include democracy supporters, journalists and human rights advocates, among others.
The proposed extradition law has also been unpopular with business leaders in the region, some of whom have been outspoken and threatened to leave Hong Kong rather than be subjected to an uncertain and politically charged legal climate.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has agreed to put aside her proposed extradition agreement with China, after apologizing for the role the proposed bill played in provoking the citywide protests.
The current version of the proposed bill will expire in July of next year if Hong Kong’s legislative process does not push the bill forward. However, Lam has not committed to abandoning efforts to push forward a similar bill in the future.