Mitch McConnell Warns China Is 'Playing With Fire' in Hong Kong, Wants Trump to Take 'Forceful Action' if Beijing Conducts Tiananmen-style Massacre

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned China that it is "playing with fire" in Hong Kong and said he would push President Donald Trump to take "more forceful action" if Beijing uses violence to put down the protests.

Hong Kong, a self-governing Chinese territory, is rocked by waves of demonstrations against the government that started with a controversial extradition bill that would allow suspects to be whisked away to the communist-controlled mainland where human rights groups say there are regular abuses.

Police are meeting the escalating protests with increasing brutality. The Chinese military is massing around Hong Kong, sparking international concern that Beijing is preparing to move in and put down the protests by means similar to 1989's infamous Tiananmen Square massacre.

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, appeared on conservative Hugh Hewitt's radio show Tuesday. Hewitt referred to previous remarks by GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas that if China moved militarily against the demonstrators in Hong Kong it would be a "grievous mistake of historic proportion," and asked if McConnell agreed.

"I do. In fact, I passed the Hong Kong Policy Act way back in 1992, which requires an annual report from the State Department on whether or not the Chinese are keeping the agreement they made with the British prior to the handover," McConnell said.

"And in the last few years, those reports have been very critical. I'm going to be supporting legislation to enhance those requirements. And I think this is a pivotal moment for the Chinese… This is a seminal moment, and it'll be interesting to see how the Chinese manage it."

Hewitt asked McConnell what he would recommend to the president if China responds in a similar way to the student protests in Tiananmen Square, which is still surrounded by mystery. Some Western estimates put the death toll as high as the thousands.

"Well, I think it requires a significant response from us, in my opinion," McConnell said. "I think that if the Chinese do crush this what I would call peaceful attempt to maintain their rights, it requires, it seems to me, America, which is known internationally for standing up for human rights, to speak up and to take more forceful action. That's what I would recommend to the president. Obviously, that's his decision in the end."

The senator said he would "look at all the options," including the expulsion of Chinese students from the United States: "You know, we have 75,000 Americans who live and work in Hong Kong as well. That's truly an international city that has enjoyed a Western-style freedom for a very long time. I think the Chinese are playing with fire here, and hopefully they will not go too far."

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond immediately to Newsweek's request for comment.

Mitch McConnell Trump China Hong Kong protests
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answers questions following the weekly Republican policy luncheon on July 30, 2019 in Washington, D.C. McConnell said he would urge President Donald Trump to take "forceful action" if China cracks down violently on the protests in Hong Kong. Win McNamee/Getty Images