WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump described the developing unrest in Hong Kong as a "tough situation" on Tuesday but stopped short of criticizing Beijing over its handling of the situation.
Riot police clashed with pro-democracy protesters at Hong Kong's airport in scenes that were splashed across cable news throughout the day on Tuesday. Trump has been cautious in his response to the escalating tension, even as some Republicans in Washington have warned China to not crack down on the protesters.
"The Hong Kong thing is a very tough situation, very tough," Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One for an energy event in Pennsylvania. "I hope it works out for everybody, including China, by the way. I hope it works out for everybody."
Asked about the movement of Chinese troops in response to the unrest, Trump described the situation as "tricky" and repeated his hope that it resolved itself.
Many are blaming me, and the United States, for the problems going on in Hong Kong. I can’t imagine why?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 13, 2019
Trump's reticence to criticize China has drawn fire from some foreign policy analysts who have urged Trump to be more assertive.
"The demonstrators are standing up to an authoritarian bully, and the U.S. president should be standing alongside them," said Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based nonpartisan policy institute. "Not to do so is immoral and reckless."
Other Republicans have taken a more aggressive position.
"The people of Hong Kong are bravely standing up to the Chinese Communist Party as Beijing tries to encroach on their autonomy and freedom," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell posted Monday on Twitter. "Any violent crackdown would be completely unacceptable. As I have said on the Senate floor: The world is watching."
The people of Hong Kong are bravely standing up to the Chinese Communist Party as Beijing tries to encroach on their autonomy and freedom. Any violent crackdown would be completely unacceptable. As I have said on the Senate floor: The world is watching. https://t.co/5VPm5P4PfB
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) August 12, 2019
Democrats have directly criticized Trump's hesitance to get involved.
"Standing with the tens of thousands of brave protesters fighting for democracy in Hong Kong," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., tweeted on Tuesday. "Our government must demand that China not use violence against peaceful demonstrators. Trump can't stay silent."
Trump has been engaged in a tit-for-tat trade war with China for months. The administration announced Tuesday it would delay new tariffs on some Chinese consumer products. The president said he made the move, which would hold off tariffs until Dec. 15, to alleviate any potential impact on the Christmas shopping season.
Trump followed up his remarks with a pair of tweets on Tuesday. He complained about criticism that he has not been harder on Beijing. He then said that "Intelligence has informed us" that the Chinese government has moved troops to the Hong Kong border, a development that has been widely known for days.
"Many are blaming me, and the United States, for the problems going on in Hong Kong," he wrote. "I can’t imagine why?"
Trump was asked about the escalating tension between Hong Kong and China nearly two weeks ago.
"Well, something is probably happening with Hong Kong because when you look at, you know, what's going on, they've had riots for a long period of time," Trump told reporters at the time. "But that's between Hong Kong and that's between China, because Hong Kong is a part of China. They'll have to deal with that themselves. They don't need advice."
The airport disruptions are an escalation of a summer of demonstrations aimed at what many Hong Kong residents see as an increasing erosion of the freedoms they were promised in 1997 when Communist Party-ruled mainland China took over what had been a British colony.
The protests have built on an opposition movement that shut down much of the city for seven weeks in 2014 before it eventually fizzled and its leaders were jailed on public disturbance charges.
The central government in Beijing has ominously characterized the current protest movement as something approaching "terrorism" that poses an "existential threat" to citizens.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump: Hong Kong airport protests tricky, tough