By Tessa Berenson
June 18, 2019

President Donald Trump called the protesters on the streets of Hong Kong “very effective,” but declined to voice support for their specific demands of the Chinese government.

“They’re obviously having a big impact,” Trump told TIME when asked what message he had for the Hong Kong protesters. “And I think that they’ve been very effective in their dealings with China.”

Massive demonstrations have been roiling the streets of Hong Kong in recent days that began in opposition to a bill that would allow mainland China to extradite criminal suspects from the semi-autonomous region. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam shelved the bill and issued a public apology on Tuesday but has not acceded to all the demands of the protesters, which include canceling the bill entirely.

“It’s been pulled back,” Trump said, “and it’ll be pulled back further.”

When asked during an interview with TIME in the Oval Office on June 17 if he supports the demands of the demonstrators, Trump said, “I’m going to let the protesters speak for themselves. I have our own argument with China, and I think it’s going to work out successfully, but I’m going to let China and the protesters work out their own problem. It looks like it’s going to be worked out.”

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Trade tensions have been increasing between the United States and China as negotiations over a trade deal have faltered and Trump has increased tariffs on some Chinese goods. Trump spoke to China’s President Xi Jinping on June 18, the morning after his comments to TIME and ahead of the two leaders’ planned meeting at the G-20 summit in Japan.

According to a readout of the call provided by the White House, the two leaders discussed “addressing structural barriers to trade with China and achieving meaningful reforms that are enforceable and verifiable” and “regional security issues.” The Hong Kong protests are not mentioned.

-With reporting by Brian Bennett, Massimo Calabresi and Edward Felsenthal/Washington

Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.berenson@time.com.

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