If it seems like Washington toned down its support for the Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protest movement after Trump's meeting with President Xi in Osaka, that's because Trump ordered his administration to pull punches as part of his pact with his Chinese rival in order to ensure that trade talks with China didn't wither on the vine.
Citing several senior administration officials, the FT reports that Trump explicitly promised Xi that the US would roll back its support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and tone down its criticism of Beijing's approach to Hong Kong to entice China to return to the table.
And as Hu Xijin confirmed Wednesday morning, the US and Chinese trade delegations have restarted talks, and a trip to Beijing by Mnuchin and Lighthizer, the leaders of the American trade delegation, might be in the offing in the very near future.
Chinese and US negotiators held a phone conversation. Chinese side only confirmed the phone conversation, without mentioning the conversation is “constructive” as described by the US side. So cautious it seems Chinese side has learned lessons from previous changes.— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) July 10, 2019
Here's more from the FT:
The US president made the commitment when the two leaders met at the G20 summit in Osaka, according to several people familiar with the meeting. One person said Mr Trump made a similar pledge in a phone call with Mr Xi ahead of the G20 summit.
Concrete steps taken by the administration include pressuring Kurt Tong, the outgoing US general consul, to leave out criticisms of Beijing from his final speech. A Washington think tank also delayed what was assumed to be a critical speech by Tong, presumably under pressure from the White House.
Others have complained that Tong isn't the only Beijing critic who has been muzzled by the administration in recent weeks.
Following the Trump-Xi meeting, the state department told Kurt Tong, the departing US consul general in Hong Kong, to remove several critical comments about China from his final speech in the Asian financial hub. Mr Tong had told people he would give a speech about Hong Kong that would mention the erosion of freedoms by China in the territory, but the veteran diplomat was forced to water down the July 2 address.
Mr Tong, who retires on Friday, was also due to give a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank, in Washington on Wednesday. But the speech was postponed at short notice, leading some to say privately that the state department had instructed him to push back the address. One person familiar with talks at CSIS said the Trump administration was more aggressive about policing officials than its predecessors. “Our speakers from state and defence get pulled or told they can’t take questions or do things on the record about half the time these days — usually at the last minute,” he said.
Previously, the Trump Administration had warned that passage of the extradition bill might force it to cancel Hong Kong's status as a sovereign entity, and instead treat it as if it were formally a part of mainland China. That would rob the city state of the special status that has helped transform it into a global financial hub. Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass has cited the removal of this status as a pillar of his short-HK dollar thesis.
But as we've previously documented, Trump is willing to give away a lot to ensure that a trade deal happens.
So, Hong Kongers can stop looking to the US for support as the movement continues into its second month.