Demonstrators in Hong Kong flung gasoline bombs at the office of China’s state-run Xinhua news agency on Saturday night, creating a scene likened by Xinhua employees to a “war zone.”
The incident was cited by critics of the protest movement as evidence that it has its own authoritarian tendencies and is hostile to speech it disagrees with.
The South China Morning Post quoted an employee who described the attack and its aftermath:
“The ground floor glass panels were all shattered, there was lots of red paint spilled everywhere in the lobby and there was a smell of burning,” said the man, who asked not to be named as he is not authorized to speak about the incident.
“It was about 5pm, dozens of us were busy editing and filing stories when the fire alarm rang,” he said. “We were concerned because we could see from the live TV reports that our building was under attack. But we didn’t stop working immediately, thinking it was not going to be serious.”
The man said his opinion changed as he and his colleagues were exiting the building and saw the state of the lobby.
“Seeing it on TV and seeing it with your own eyes are totally different things,” he said. “This is madness right in front of you. The strong burning smell mixed with the paint smell in the air made some of us giddy.”
The man declined to say how many people were in the building on Queen’s Road East in Wan Chai when it came under attack but said some of his colleagues had relatives in the office.
Xinhua issued a statement expressing “great indignation at the barbaric acts of the mob.”
China Daily denounced it as a “rioters’ rampage” that “fed into growing concern about the deliberate suppression of the city’s long-cherished freedom of expression and the press sparked by rioters.”
“The black-clad rioters’ tactics are doomed to fail simply because their violence will encounter the full weight of the law,” China Daily declared. “Those Hong Kong residents whose lives have been disrupted by the intensifying violence of intimidation – instigated and organized by those hoping to use Hong Kong as a means to destabilize the nation – will be glad when life returns to normal.”
China’s state-run Global Times quoted observers who said the attack on Xinhua was an act of “obvious defiance of the central government and mainland organizations” and an example of “persistent violence” from the protest movement.
The Global Times predicted the incident will increase support for chief executive Carrie Lam, who is currently working on a plan with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng to defuse the protest movement by physically relocating as many people as possible from Hong Kong to mainland cities.
“Such a move would help Hong Kong out of the current difficult situation and solve deep-rooted social problems including Hong Kong’s development within the Greater Bay Area,” the article suggested, citing comments from Tang Fei of Beijing’s Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.
Chinese state media were unanimous in urging Beijing to take a “tougher line” against Hong Kong protesters after the Xinhua attack, arguing they have moved beyond dissent into the ultimate political crime of “separatism.”