BEIJING - The current chaos that has enveloped Hong Kong is largely the work of “behind-the-scenes masterminds” that have instigated, directed and funded violent protests, said Beijing on Tuesday (Aug 6) as it attempted to provide evidence of foreign interference.
Issuing its sternest warning yet, it told the “violent criminals” and “dirty forces” driving them: Play with fire and perish with it.
In a second news conference in just over a week, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office described protests in the past few days as “shocking” and said they have gone beyond the freedoms of assembly and demonstration.
“Don’t ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness.
“Don’t ever underestimate the firm resolve and the immense strength of the central government and the people of the whole country to maintain Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability and safeguard the fundamental interests of the nation,” said spokesman Yang Guang to a select group of mostly foreign and Hong Kong journalists.
Hong Kong police fired tear gas at protesters in numerous locations on Monday after a city-wide strike forced 250 flights to be grounded, main roads blocked and eight metro lines to be suspended for over five hours.
The Chinese territory has been rocked by protests for the past two months over a controversial extradition Bill which has since been suspended.
Despite the withdrawal, tensions have escalated and turned violent at times as protesters demanded the resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam and an independent inquiry into police action, among other things.
Beijing on Tuesday made clear that it has “unswerving support” for Ms Lam as well as her government to uphold law and order and bring criminals to justice.
“The opposition’s attempt to force chief executive Carrie Lam to resign is doomed to fail,” said Mr Yang.
He attributed the turmoil now gripping Hong Kong to a small number of “violent radicals” at the front, “some kind-hearted citizens who have been misguided and coerced to join” in the middle, and “anti-China forces” agitating in the background.
“They have openly and brazenly emboldened violent radicals, and overtly and covertly coordinated, directed and funded protests,” he said.
China has repeatedly accused the United States of being the “black hand” behind the Hong Kong civil disobedience movement.
When asked by The Straits Times if it had evidence of this, Mr Yang cited remarks that have been made by certain politicians, as well as statements issued by the US and other western countries expressing concern over the extradition law and Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Without providing names, Mr Yang also referred to meetings held between Hong Kong opposition figures and senior US government officials.
Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, a key supporter of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Democratic Party, last month (July) met US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the White House, drawing the ire of Beijing.
Hong Kong democrat leader Martin Lee also led a delegation to Washington to meet with Mr Pompeo.
“Whoever participated in violent and criminal activities would be held accountable in accordance with the law, including the behind-the-scenes masterminds, organisers and directors,” warned Mr Yang.
Associate Professor Alfred Wu of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said China’s strategy of blaming foreign intervention for its problems is a recurring one, which was also used by the Hong Kong government during the Occupy Central movement in 2014.
“(Then chief executive) CY Leung said he had evidence of foreign forces at work, but there has never been any solid evidence presented,” said Prof Wu.
“The notion of foreign influence is a matter of definition. US lawmakers have met the pro-government camp too. But many ordinary Chinese do buy into this narrative.”
While analysts believe Beijing will not send in the troops to restore order, the Chinese government has sent signals that the military option is on the table.
Police in neighbouring Shenzhen posted videos of an anti-riot drill on Tuesday involving more than 12,000 policemen tackling groups of people resembling the Hong Kong protesters, purportedly in preparation of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China on October 1.
Last week, the People’s Liberation Army also posted a video on social media of its Hong Kong garrison soldiers engaged in an anti-riot exercise.
“The PLA is a strong force and will defend every inch of its sacred territory,” Mr Yang told reporters on Tuesday, adding that the Chinese government will never allow its “one country, two systems” principle to be challenged.
The authorities have said there are provisions within the law that allow the military to intervene if necessary.