US official says Chinese bargain possible but Trump won’t ignore Hong Kong

US national security adviser Robert O’Brien said on Saturday an initial trade agreement with China was still possible by the end of the year, but warned that Donald Trump would not turn a blind eye to what happens in Hong Kong.

The comments add to growing worries that a Chinese crackdown on anti-government protests could further complicate the efforts by Washington and Beijing to end a prolonged trade war that has roiled global markets and undercut global economic growth forecasts.

“We were hoping to have [a phase one] deal done by the end of the year. I still think that’s possible,” O’Brien told reporters at a security conference in Halifax.

“At the same time, we’re not going to turn a blind eye to what’s happening in Hong Kong or what’s happening in the South China Sea, or other areas of the world where we’re concerned about China’s activity.”

O’Brien, the fourth occupant of his post under Trump, said he hoped district elections in Hong Kong would proceed without violence. “That would be a good sign,” he said.

On Friday, Trump said he had told China’s president, Xi Jinping, crushing the Hong Kong protesters would have “a tremendous negative impact” on efforts to reach an accord to end a 16-month trade war.

Trump has been vague about whether he would sign or veto US legislation to back protesters in Hong Kong, and boasted that he alone has prevented Beijing from crushing the demonstrations with a million soldiers.

Asked what would be the reaction of US if China cracked down hard, O’Brien said: “I’m hoping that doesn’t happen. We’ve already seen too much violence in Hong Kong.

“The real question is what is the world prepared to do about China if there is that sort of a crackdown? The United States will do its part.”

The treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said in October US and Chinese negotiators were working on nailing down a “phase one” trade deal text for their presidents to sign in November.

But the deal’s completion could slide into next year, trade experts and people close to the White House said this week, as Beijing presses for more extensive tariff rollbacks and Washington counters with heightened demands of its own.