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President Donald Trump suggested that Chinese President Xi Jinping meet directly with protesters in Hong Kong, saying it would lead to a “happy and enlightened ending” to demonstrations that have rocked the territory for more than two months.
“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 tweeted Thursday.
The president’s comments come after days of turmoil at Hong Kong’s airport, which protesters took over, forcing flight cancellations and raising the specter that China would intervene aggressively to quell the demonstrations. But it would be largely unprecedented for China’s leader to agree to talks with representatives from a largely leaderless protest movement that has challenged his government’s legitimacy.
Late on Wednesday, Trump appeared to link unrest in Hong Kong with progress in trade talks with the U.S.
“Of course China wants to make a trade deal,” Trump wrote. “Let them work humanely with Hong Kong first!”
The American leader’s tweets appeared to signal a shift from his largely passive approach to about 10 weeks of demonstrations in Hong Kong, which at one point he called “riots” in language similar to that used by authorities in Beijing. The protests, which began with widespread opposition to a China-backed extradition bill, have shifted to focus more on calls for greater democracy.
At least one prominent Hong Kong dissident moved to quickly embrace Trump’s suggestion. Joshua Wong, an activist who served a brief jail term for his role leading an earlier wave of pro-democracy protests in 2014, responded to the U.S. president’s tweet in a cutting fashion.
“Welcome Emperor Xi come to HK and meet with protesters directly and openly during demonstration,” Wong wrote on Twitter.
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