WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged China on Monday to respect the integrity of Hong Kong’s laws and repeated President Donald Trump’s warning that it would be harder for Washington to make a trade deal with Beijing if there was violence in the former British territory.
“For the United States to make a deal with China, Beijing needs to honor its commitments - beginning with the commitment China made in 1984 to respect the integrity of Hong Kong’s laws through the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” Pence said in an address at the Detroit Economic Club.
“Our administration will continue to urge Beijing to act in a humanitarian manner and urge China and the demonstrators in Hong Kong to resolve their differences peacefully,” Pence said.
Trump said last week he was concerned about the situation in Hong Kong and did not want to see a resort to violence to quell weeks of mass protests that have presented one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
On Sunday, Trump repeated a call for China to resolve the situation in a “humanitarian” way and said this would be “very good for the trade deal” he has been seeking with Beijing while conducting a major tariff war.
On Monday, China’s state-controlled Global Times tabloid said “elites” in the United States could not influence China’s decisions in handling the situation in Hong Kong.
It said China was hoping Hong Kong’s internal forces were able to restore order with the support of the central government, but said “strong intervention” from China would be the only choice if Hong Kong is unable to do so.
“Political and public opinion elites in the U.S. must understand that although they have the ability to instigate Hong Kong’s radical protesters and make it harder for Hong Kong to restore order, they absolutely cannot influence Beijing’s decisions on Hong Kong’s situation,” in said in an editorial.
The paper added that talks between Beijing and Washington to resolve their trade dispute had “already been difficult” for the United States and that it cannot “afford any other burden.”
Hong Kong is gearing up for more protests this week after hundreds of thousands of anti-government demonstrators braved heavy rain to rally peacefully on Sunday, marking a change to what have often been violent clashes.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration that Pence referred to was an agreement on the terms of Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. It allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the right to protest.
China said in 2017 that the declaration was a historical document with no practical significance, and a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday Hong Kong was an internal matter for China and there was no clause in it allowing outside forces a right to interfere.
Trump, who has been seeking a deal with China to correct major trade imbalances ahead of his 2020 re-election bid, has appeared to toughen his approach on Hong Kong after facing criticism from Congress and elsewhere for his characterization of the protests earlier this month as “riots” that were a matter for China to address.
As concerns grew last week about possible Chinese intervention, Trump linked the situation to a trade deal for the first time and urged Xi to meet personally with the protesters to defuse tensions.
Reporting by Jeff Mason, Doina Chiacu and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Franklin Paul and Dan Grebler