Recalling Tiananmen Square, Bolton Warns China Against ‘Missteps’ in Hong Kong

By Patrick Goodenough | August 15, 2019 | 4:26am EDT
Hong Kong police charge protestors in the city's Sham Shui Po district on Wednesday. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

( – National Security Advisor John Bolton reminded China on Wednesday of the memories Americans have of its violent Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, and warned that any “misstep” in Beijing’s handling of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong would have a severe economic impact and “cause an explosion on Capitol Hill.”

Bolton’s comments, in a Voice of America interview, come amid concerns about the deployment of Chinese paramilitary police to a city bordering Hong Kong, and a hardening of Beijing’s rhetoric regarding the protests in the territory, which is meant to enjoy a high degree of autonomy from the communist-ruled mainland including the right to police itself.

President Trump has drawn some criticism for not speaking out more forcefully about the situation.

But in remarks certain to attract a strong reaction in Beijing, his national security council adviser told VOA that “the Chinese have to look very carefully at the steps they take, because people in America remember Tiananmen Square.”

“They remember the picture of the man standing in front of the line of tanks,” he said. “They remember the statue of Lady Liberty. They remember voices of the Chinese people asking for freedom and democracy. And they remember the repression of the Chinese government in 1989.”

“It would be a big mistake to create a new memory like that in Hong Kong.”

Bolton noted the key importance of Hong Kong to mainland China’s economy.

“Something like 60 percent of the investment in mainland China goes through Hong Kong. Why? Because it has a judicial system that’s trustworthy, based on the English model that we know in this country. The courts are thought to be impartial.”

“If Hong Kong loses that reputation because of a bad decision by the Chinese government, they’ll have significant economic consequences in China this time.”

Closer to home, Bolton alluded to the sharp criticism of Beijing that has come from U.S. lawmakers, including senior Democrats and Republicans.

“From what I’ve heard just in the past few weeks, the mood in Congress is very volatile at this point,” he said, “and a misstep by the Chinese government, I think, would cause an explosion on Capitol Hill.”

Protestors gather in Beijing's Tianamnen Square on May 30, 1989. China's military crackdown began days later. (Photo by Toshio Sakai/AFP/Getty Images)

Hong Kong enjoys special trade status under U.S. law passed several years before the former colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. That law provides for the president to suspend those privileges if it is determined that Hong Kong is not “sufficiently autonomous” from the mainland.

U.S. lawmakers from both parties are signaling that those privileges could be at risk.

China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday called criticism from some U.S. lawmakers – including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – “vile,” saying such remarks “have provided the world with new and powerful evidence” that the U.S. is involved in the unrest.

‘Everyone should be calm and safe!’

In June 1989, unknown hundreds and possibly thousands of Chinese people were killed when the People’s Liberation Army was sent in to the landmark Beijing site to end weeks of protests by students and workers demanding democratic reforms.

The protests in Hong Kong were sparked ten weeks ago by a proposal by its Beijing-backed government to allow criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland for trial.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam later suspended the plan, but protestors want it withdrawn completely. Concerned about a broader erosion of democracy in Hong Kong, protestors are also demanding Lam’s resignation, and an inquiry into widely-witnessed police violence against demonstrators.

Some protestors have reacted violently themselves, throwing stones and other objects at police. For much of Monday and Tuesday, Hong Kong’s international airport was crippled by protestors occupying terminals and on Tuesday some protestors there assaulted a reporter for a Communist Party-affiliated mainland newspaper. After a judge granted an interim restricting order, operations at the airport resumed on Wednesday.

Early this week top officials in Beijing started using the term “terrorism” to describe protestors’ actions, and state media pointedly posted video footage showing People’s Armed Police (PAP) personnel assembling in Shenzhen, a mainland city adjacent to Hong Kong.

“Our Intelligence has informed us that the Chinese Government is moving troops to the Border with Hong Kong,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. “Everyone should be calm and safe!”

Asked by reporters the same day whether he wants to see China exercise restraint in Hong Kong, he replied that the situation was “very tough” and that he hoped that “it works out for everybody, including China.”

Trump said he hoped that “it works out peacefully” and that “nobody gets killed.”

On Wednesday night, the president tweeted, “I know President Xi of China very well. He is a great leader who very much has the respect of his people. He is also a good man in a ‘tough business.’ I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it. Personal meeting?”


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