Congressional leaders slam Chinese government over Hong Kong protests after Trump called situation 'tricky'

Nicholas Wu

WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders on Wednesday blamed the Chinese government for unrest in Hong Kong and threatened Beijing if force were used on protesters

Demonstrations by pro-democracy activists have rocked the city over the past several months over fears the city's civil liberties and political freedoms were being eroded by China's Communist Party.

The top lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee issued a bipartisan statement on Wednesday promising "universal condemnation and swift consequences" if force were used against the protesters. 

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. and Michael McCaul, R-Texas said, "We have deep respect for the brave efforts of Hong Kong people from every walk of life who have demonstrated their clear desire for freedom, democracy, and the rule of law."

The criticism comes after President Donald Trump struck a noncommittal tone about Hong Kong in recent remarks. On Tuesday, Trump declined to criticize China for its handling of the protests but called the situation "tough" and "tricky." He later complained about criticism that he has not been harder on Beijing.

Hong Kong: Satellite photos appear to show China's paramilitary vehicles near Hong Kong

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Trump in a Tuesday statement to go further than his previous statements on Hong Kong and urged the de-escalation of protests.

“The pro-Beijing Chief Executive and the Hong Kong police forces must immediately cease the aggression and abuse being perpetrated against their own people," she said. “We urge President Trump to walk away from his recent statements, which invite miscalculation, and to work to advance peace, justice and democracy in Hong Kong."

Engel and McCaul directly addressed assertions by China's foreign ministry that Americans had helped instigate the unrest and called on China to "cease encroaching on Hong Kong's autonomy."

"No foreign powers are fomenting this dissent," they said. "It is the result of Beijing’s successive violations of their commitment to honor the will of the people of Hong Kong." 

The lawmakers' letter also addressed rumors that the State Department had driven unrest – specifically through pictures that had circulated on Chinese social media of a State Department official meeting with protesters.

“We also condemn authorities who have harassed a State Department diplomat in Hong Kong for simply doing their job in accordance with the rights and responsibilities of diplomats all over the world. As the Department has said, these are the actions of a ‘thuggish regime,'" the letter said.

In recent days, the protests have escalated as demonstrators clashed with police and occupied the city's airport, one of the busiest in the world, forcing the cancellation of flights. 

Beijing: Donald Trump calls Hong Kong protests 'tough,' 'tricky' but declines to warn Beijing

The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that satellite images appeared to show the massing of Chinese paramilitary vehicles in Shenzhen, just across the harbor from Hong Kong. The Chinese government described the protests as "near terrorism," signaling a potential crackdown in the future. 

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, referencing videos that had circulated on social media of protesters waving American flags and singing the national anthem, said that "America stands for freedom. America stands with Hong Kong." 

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More: Ten dramatic images from the Hong Kong airport protests and clashes with police

Contributing: John Fritze, David Jackson 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hong Kong protest: Reps. Engel, McCaul criticize Chinese government