THERE IS NO chance that President Xi Jinping will take up his US counterpart Donald Trump’s suggestion to meet with the Hong Kong protestors. For one, it would be too reminiscent of Premier Li Peng’s meeting with the student leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest. For another, it is unimaginable that Xi would meet with the leaders of a group Beijing is branding as “rioters with behaviour that is close to terrorism”.
However, the suggestion is a deft one on the part of Trump. It tacitly acknowledges China’s right to intervene directly in the Hong Kong protests, now in their tenth week, without condoning a ‘send in the tanks’ approach. It gets Trump off the hook for his ill-judged earlier proposal that he and Xi meet to resolve the protests, and it ties the protests to the China-US trade dispute. By saying that the situation in Hong Kong has to be resolved first, it provides convenient cover for any lack of progress in the trade talks regardless.