By Michael C. Bender in Washington and Chao Deng in Beijing
President Trump called antigovernment protests in Hong Kong a "complicating factor" in his bid for a trade deal with China and didn't say whether he would sign a bill passed by Congress supporting the protesters.
"We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I'm also standing with President Xi, he's a friend of mine, he's an incredible guy," Mr. Trump said on Fox & Friends Friday morning when asked about the bill.
The president said he supported Hong Kong, "but we are also in the process of making the largest trade deal in history and if we could do that it would be great."
Mr. Trump said the trade talks were helping to moderate Mr. Xi's response to the protests. Of a possible escalation, Mr. Trump said, "the only reason he is not going in is because I'm saying it's going to affect our trade deal."
A senior administration official said Friday that the president hadn't yet indicated that he had made a final decision on the bill. The measure would require the U.S. certify annually that Hong Kong is independent enough from Beijing to retain favored trading status and would sanction people who commit human-rights abuses in the city.
A veto from Mr. Trump could set up a possible override. A veto override requires a two-thirds majority in each chamber. The Senate bill was passed through a unanimous consent vote, meaning no one objected. The House passed the bill in a 417-1 vote.
Lawmakers of both parties reiterated their support for the bill and predicted it would become law regardless of what President Trump does.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said Mr. Trump's comments "do not reflect what the American people or the Congress think about President Xi's oppressive policies toward the people of Hong Kong."
Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida tweeted that it would be a mistake for Mr. Trump to veto the bill and said Congress spoke "loud and clear" about backing the protesters. Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) said the bill passed by "overwhelming veto-proof majorities and it will become law."
U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators have attempted to keep economic issues separate from other aspects of foreign policy, trade experts say, but a major disagreement over Hong Kong, where violent clashes between police and protesters have been raging for months, could upend the fragile talks.
The Hong Kong bill has enraged Beijing, where the China's Foreign Ministry summoned the ranking U.S. diplomat in Beijing in a formal protest on Wednesday.
"In real diplomacy, there are certain lines you don't cross," Li Kexin, the deputy chief of the Chinese Embassy, said at an event in Washington on Thursday night, according to the prepared text of the comments released by the embassy.
The U.S. and China are working to strike a deal to resolve some of their disagreements in a trade dispute that has led the two sides to impose punitive tariffs on each other covering goods valued in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Since October, trade negotiations have dragged on longer than expected, and a decision on important issues was expected to come down to what Messrs. Trump and Xi are personally willing to agree upon.
The Wall Street Journal reported that China's chief trade negotiator has invited his American counterparts to Beijing for a new round of face-to-face talks, although U.S. negotiators are reluctant to make the trek unless China makes it clear that it would make commitments on intellectual-property protection, forced technology transfers and agricultural purchases.
In Beijing on Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China and the U.S. should strengthen communication on strategic issues, according to state media, which didn't report any direct comments by the leader on the two countries' trade war.
Washington and Beijing should seek common ground while putting aside differences, Mr. Xi said Friday during a meeting with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, according to China Central Television.
"Right now, China-U.S. relations are at a critical juncture, and face some difficulties and challenges," Mr. Xi said at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The two sides should avoid misunderstandings and "push China-U.S. relations toward the right direction of forward development," he said.
The CCTV report didn't explicitly mention the trade fight or negotiations. Mr. Xi rarely makes comments in public directly about the U.S.-China trade dispute.
However, Mr. Xi told some visitors at the Great Hall on Friday, "We want to work for a 'phase one' agreement on the basis of mutual respect and equality," according to Reuters citing a pool report. "When necessary we will fight back, but we have been working actively to try not to have a trade war. We did not initiate this trade war, and this is not something we want," he said.
Mr. Xi was referring to efforts by negotiators to strike a partial deal that would leave more difficult issues for later. As part of phase one, Beijing has been pressing Washington to roll back existing tariffs as well as those set to take effect Dec. 15.
Mr. Kissinger played a major role in America's 1971 opening to China after more than two decades of estrangement. Mr. Xi has previously met with him in Beijing, calling the former secretary of state an old friend of the Chinese people and hailing his contributions to U.S.-China relations.
On Friday, Mr. Kissinger said he agreed with Mr. Xi's comments on U.S.-China ties, and the Chinese president said he hopes Mr. Kissinger will continue to promote the two countries' relations, according to state media.
Write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com and Chao Deng at Chao.Deng@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 22, 2019 16:13 ET (21:13 GMT)
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