China’s Defense Ministry suggested on Wednesday that the government of Hong Kong, besieged for two months by pro-democracy protests, has the legal right to request the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “maintain social order” by attacking the protesters.
China’s Foreign Ministry similarly condemned the protests in its regular Tuesday briefing, insisting they have “nothing to do with free speech” and that China will do whatever necessary to keep its control over the autonomous region. The Ministry also accused the United States of orchestrating the protests and warned Washington to keep its “dirty hands” out of Hong Kong.
Protesters began taking to the street in early June against a proposed law that would have allowed Hong Kong police to extradite anyone in the territory if China claimed he had violated Chinese law. The protesters argue that the law would ban free speech in Hong Kong because China could claim anyone criticizing its communist regime was violating Beijing law and have him placed into a Chinese prison.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam claimed this month that the bill was “dead” after lawmakers tabled it, but tabling a bill makes it possible to revive it at any time, keeping Hongkongers on the streets.
Hong Kong is governed under a policy called “One Country, Two Systems,” which requires that Hong Kong submit to China’s sovereignty but that China allow Hong Kong to retain the capitalist system it developed under British rule. Protesters argue that the extradition law would run afoul of “One Country, Two Systems.”
While the protesters have been overwhelmingly peaceful despite their large numbers – the largest protest so far attracted two million of Hong Kong’s seven million people – violent incidents have occurred. Most recently, this weekend, an armed mob dressed in white descended on protesters attempting to take public transit home from northern Yuen Long, New Territories, on Sunday, sending at least 45 people to the hospital. Some have accused the Chinese Communist Party of financing the mob.
“We have been paying close attention to the developments in Hong Kong, especially after riots on Sunday when radical forces besieged the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in HKSAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region],” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian said on Wednesday.
The Global Times, a Chinese government newspaper, said that Wu “cited the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Garrisoning of the HKSAR, which stipulates that the HKSAR government could request the central government to allow the PLA garrison in Hong Kong to maintain social order and disaster relief when necessary.”
Wu was responding to a reporter who asked how China planned to handle the ongoing protests.
Wu’s comment was the first time the Defense Ministry itself had indicated interest in deploying troops into Hong Kong to end the anti-communist movement, but China’s state media have repeatedly hinted at a military response to the protesters. Citing “experts” this month, the Global Times suggested that the protesters were creating violent situations designed to bait China into deploying the military and “embarrassing” itself before the global human rights community. The newspaper also noted that the PLA was conducting “emergency response exercises” in the area to remain active in the event that it is needed to impose China’s agenda.
China’s Foreign Ministry also addressed the Hong Kong protests angrily on Tuesday, but rather than discussing the potential of a military intervention, spokesperson Hua Chunying used the opportunity to blame the United States for allegedly fueling discontent with the Communist Party in the region.
Judging from what was on the media, we see clear signs of foreign manipulation, orchestration and even organization in the relevant violent incidents,” Hua said. “I hope the U.S. will answer this question honestly and clearly: what role did the U.S. play in the recent incidents in Hong Kong and what is your purpose behind it?”
“We advise the U.S. to withdraw its dirty hands from Hong Kong as soon as possible,” Hua warned, insisting that the protest movement “has nothing to do with the freedom of speech and assembly.”
The State Department has expressed hope that China would respect the protesters’ right to express themselves but has shied away from fully backing the movement against China. President Donald Trump went as far as to say China has “acted responsibly” against protesters so far in remarks Monday.
A reporter asked Hua to comment on Trump lending China support in its actions so far, but Hua refused to answer, instead repeating that the Chinese “hope to safeguard Hong Kong’s security, stability and prosperity, and [they] have the resolve and capability to do so.”
Calls for China to crush the protest movement within Hong Kong have become personified in lawmaker Junius Ho, a longtime supporter of Beijing who was caught on camera Sunday shaking hands with the white-shirted thugs in Yuen Long attacking protesters. In a video published Tuesday night on his Facebook profile, Ho warned the protesters that continuing to rally for democracy would lead to death.
“Today, I want to tell you very clearly,” Ho said. “The paths before you? One is a path of being alive, one is a path of not being alive. You must choose which path to take. Decide soon.”
In an interview on Hong Kong television Tuesday, Ho refused to apologize for shaking hands with the assailants and called for Hong Kong to ban all protests. He also defended the attacks by saying, “When they [protesters] provoke and storm a peaceful, harmonious community, it is very normal for residents to have a reaction.”
While the protesters have not used violence against individuals on any large scale, they have engaged in acts of vandalism, first destroying the Hong Kong legislative floor to make it impossible for the lawmakers to pass the extradition bill, then defacing the outside of China’s central liaison office in the region. Following the circulation of video showing Ho shaking hands with the white-shirted rioters, protesters vandalized his legislative office and the graves of his parents.
The Yuen Long attackers did not vandalize property, focusing on beating anyone wearing black (the protesters’ favored color) with bamboo sticks and metal rods. Hong Kong police have arrested ten of the estimated 100 people who formed part of the mob and confirmed their ties to local triads, or organized crime syndicates.