Trump claims Hong Kong 'would have been obliterated' without his actions

Trump claims Hong Kong 'would have been obliterated' without his actions
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed MORE on Friday claimed that Hong Kong "would have been obliterated" if he did not use it as leverage in trade negotiations with China.

The president offered the comments as he refused to commit to signing a bill overwhelmingly approved by Congress this week that would impose sanctions on people who commit human rights violations in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protesters have been demonstrating for months.

The president said during an interview with "Fox & Friends" that he supports the protesters in Hong Kong who have clashed with law enforcement over the last several months, but made clear that the demonstrations are part of ongoing trade talks with Beijing.

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“That’s a complicating factor," Trump said of the protests in response to a question about the legislation. 

"And if it weren’t for me, Hong Kong would have been obliterated in 14 minutes. [Chinese President Xi Jinping] has got a million soldiers standing outside of Hong Kong that aren’t going in only because I ask him please don’t do that, you’d be making a big mistake. It’s going to have a tremendous negative impact on the trade deal."

The House on Wednesday voted nearly unanimously to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, one day after the Senate approved the bill by unanimous consent. Both chambers passed the legislation with a veto-proof majority.

Trump indicated he's supportive of the protesters but hoped to balance it with his talks with Xi.

"We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I'm also standing with President Xi," Trump said. "He's a friend of mine. He's an incredible guy. We have to stand, but I'd like to see them work it out."

"But I stand with Hong Kong, I stand with freedom... but we also are in the process of making the largest trade deal in history," he added. "And if we could do that it would be great."

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Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTurf war derails bipartisan push on surprise medical bills Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA CEO group pushes Trump, Congress on paid family, medical leave MORE (D-N.Y.) blasted Trump for not committing to signing the bill. 

“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," he said in a statement. "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.” 

The legislation passed this week by Congress would impose sanctions on individuals who commit human rights violations in Hong Kong and block them from entering the United States. It would also require the State Department to provide an annual report to lawmakers on whether Hong Kong remains "sufficiently autonomous" from China.

Images of bloodied protesters have circulated throughout the months-long demonstration. Tensions between protesters and law enforcement have spiked in recent days. Police over the weekend reportedly cornered demonstrators in a college campus building.

Trump has been reluctant to unequivocally speak out in support of the Hong Kong protesters. He has repeatedly said he hopes the two sides can reach a nonviolent resolution and claimed that his efforts to secure a trade deal with Beijing may have helped keep violence at bay.

The Trump administration and China are negotiating a phase one trade deal that includes agricultural products, some intellectual property reforms and digital services. The two sides were expected to sign it at a since-canceled summit last week, but it remains unclear when it will be finalized.

This story was updated at 1:16 p.m.