WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said Friday (Nov 22) he had saved Hong Kong from being destroyed by persuading Chinese President Xi Jinping to hold off on sending in troops to crush its pro-democracy movement.
"If it weren't for me, Hong Kong would have been obliterated in 14 minutes," Trump said in a scattershot early morning interview with Fox News.
Trump's comments come as he mulls signing congressionally-approved legislation in support of the pro-democracy activists - or bow to Beijing's threats of retaliation if the laws pass.
Asked whether he would veto the legislation, green-lit by an overwhelming margin in Congress on Wednesday, Trump equivocated.
"I'll tell you we have to stand with Hong Kong but I'm also standing with President Xi. He is a friend of mine he is an incredible guy," Trump said.
"I would like to see them work it out. We have to see them work it out," he added.
Trump cast his relationship with Xi as the bulwark keeping China from moving against increasingly violent protests that have rocked Hong Kong.
He added that a "million soldiers standing outside of Hong Kong are not going only because I asked him: 'Please don't do that. You will be making a big mistake. It will have a tremendous negative impact on the trade deal.'"
Trump acknowledged that the tension over the former British colony -- handed back to China in 1997 -- has complicated efforts to strike a trade deal with Beijing, a top Trump priority and source of economic uncertainty as Washington heads into an election year.
But Trump's remarks were a rejoinder to statements made hours earlier by Xi, who had told a gathering of dignitaries in Beijing that China wanted a deal but was "not afraid" to fight back if needed.
"We have a deal, potentially very close," Trump said during his interview.
"He wants to make a deal much more than I want to make it. I'm not anxious to make it."
Trump added that revenues from tariffs on Chinese imports were a windfall for the United States, something economists say is in fact weighing on the economy.
Trump's remarks did little to clarify whether the two parties are in fact making progress in finalising the text of the "phase one" agreement Trump announced last month.
China has called for a rollback of existing US tariffs as part of the agreement but US officials have said instead they could consider delaying a fresh round of duty increases that are set to take effect on Dec 15.
The US-trade conflict is now well into its second year, with hundreds of billions of dollars in two-way trade subject to steep duties.
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