Trump outlines path to ending Hong Kong crisis

President Donald Trump has suggested a path to an “enlightened ending” to the crisis in Hong Kong: Have China’s leader meet “directly and personally” with pro-democracy protesters.

After weeks of largely avoiding the topic, the U.S. president's advice -- delivered, as usual, via Twitter -- is a sign that he’s begun listening to advisers who have urged him to weigh in, despite his concerns over how it might affect ongoing U.S.-Chinese trade negotiations.

“If President Xi would meet directly and personally with the protesters, there would be a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem. I have no doubt!” Trump wrote on Thursday.

It’s unlikely that Chinese leader Xi Jinping will follow Trump’s advice. The communist government in Beijing has been threatening to violently crack down on the demonstrations, and has been staging paramilitary exercises in nearby Shenzen in view of reporters.

Trump’s tweet, though, offered insight into his effort to balance his floundering trade talks with the growing outcry in Washington and beyond over the political crisis in Hong Kong.

The president has imposed tariffs and railed against the Chinese over what he calls unfair trade practices. But he’s continued to speak warmly of Xi, describing the Chinese leader as a friend.

His Thursday tweet again might have been an attempt to praise Xi by implying that he is someone the pro-democracy protesters can trust.

A Trump administration official earlier described Trump’s “buttering up” of Xi as a key element of the U.S. president's philosophy on negotiations: that it’s important to personally flatter the person on the other side of the table.

Trump also issued a series of tweets Wednesday night referring to the trade talks with China that included a brief sentence urging Beijing to deal with Hong Kong “humanely.”

"I know President Xi of China very well," Trump tweeted. "He is a great leader who very much has the respect of his people. He is also a good man in a 'tough business.' I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it. Personal meeting?"

He sent the tweets after consulting with at least one adviser.

The protesters in Hong Kong are demanding democratic reforms amid growing signs that China is trying to erode their freedoms.

Technically, China oversees Hong Kong under a “one country, two systems” model adopted after the British handed Hong Kong back to Beijing in 1997. That means people in Hong Kong have more rights and a more democratic system than the Chinese on the mainland.

But the Beijing government has gradually sought to tighten its political control over the former British colony.

The latest protests were initially sparked by a proposal earlier this year to begin extraditing suspected criminals to the mainland for trial, fueling worries that China plans to impose its authoritarian model on Hong Kong.

President Xi visited Hong Kong in 2017 to mark the 20-year anniversary of the British handover. At the time, he said the Beijing government "has always given Hong Kong Special Administrative Region its strong backing."

He mentioned the "one country, two systems" arrangement, but emphasized economic issues over political freedoms. "We will support development and livelihood improvement in Hong Kong, as always," Xi said.

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