President Donald Trump boasted on Friday that he is the only reason China has not yet "obliterated" Hong Kong, where protesters have been marching against Beijing for months.
“If it weren't for me, Hong Kong would have been obliterated in 14 minutes,” Trump said in a phone interview on “Fox & Friends,” the morning news show known for its fierce defenses of the president.
China, Trump said, "has got a million soldiers standing outside of Hong Kong that aren’t going in only because I asked him,” he continued. “Please don’t do that. You will be making a big mistake. It’s going to have a tremendous negative impact on the trade deal, and he wants to make a trade deal.”
The comment comes as U.S. trade talks with China have yet again hit a snag, despite indications that a limited deal was close to being signed. The protests roiling Hong Kong are also emerging as a potential source of friction. Congress recently approved legislation that could remove Hong Kong's special trade status if Beijing encroaches too much on the territory's semi-autonomous status.
Trump ducked a question about whether he would veto the bill, which China has demanded, declaring he stands with both the protesters seeking more control over their government and his “friend,” Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“Well I'll tell you, we have to stand with Hong Kong but I'm also standing with President Xi,” he said. “He is a friend of mine. He is an incredible guy, we have to stand. I would like to see them work it out. We have to see them work it out. I stand with Hong Kong, I stand with freedom, I stand with all the things we want to do.”
Trump doubled down on his assertion that he is single-handedly saving lives in Hong Kong through his ongoing trade negotiations with China, saying “thousands of people” would be dead without the trade talks.
“If it weren't for me, thousands of people would have been killed in Hong Kong right now,” he concluded. “And you wouldn't have any riots. You would have a police state. But thousands of people. The only reason he is not going in because I'm saying it is going to affect our trade deal. You don't want to do that. I speak to him.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) rebuked Trump's refusal to commit to signing the bipartisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, calling the decision "bewildering."
“Make no mistake: President Trump's words today do not reflect what the American people or the Congress think about President Xi's oppressive policies toward the people of Hong Kong," Schumer said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "For a guy who promised to be tough on China, President Trump's reliable deference to President Xi is all the more bewildering. Being tough on China when it comes to human rights will also help us win the battle on trade.”