BEIJING (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AFP) - China's Hong Kong affairs office condemned what it called "near-terrorist acts" at Hong Kong's airport and reiterated support for local authorities to severely punish those responsible amid an escalating crisis in the Chinese-controlled city.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO), in a statement issued on Wednesday (Aug 14), also strongly condemned attacks against a reporter from China's Global Times newspaper and a traveller at the airport by what it said were violent protesters.
“We express the strongest condemnation of these terrorist-like actions,” said HKMAO spokesman Xu Luying, who called the two men “mainland China compatriots”.
In a separate statement, China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong said: “These atrocities, which are lawless, trampling on human rights and inhumane, have completely gone beyond the bottom line of civil society, and is no different to terrorists.”
The comments come as fears grow that China may either mobilise troops or take other actions against protesters after they brought air traffic to a halt over the past two days, furthering the economic damage to Asia’s financial capital during protests that have raged on since June.
The demonstrators, who initially hit the streets to oppose a Bill allowing extraditions to the mainland, now have a host of other demands including the resignation of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.
Hong Kong's airport resumed operations on Wednesday, rescheduling hundreds of flights that had been disrupted over the past two days as protesters clashed with riot police.
Small pockets of protesters remained on Wednesday at the airport, which resumed normal operations after a chaotic night of protest in which demonstrators beat and detained two suspected infiltrators and United States President Donald Trump warned of Chinese troops massing on the border.
The Airport Authority said it had obtained a court order to bar people from “unlawfully and wilfully” obstructing airport operations.
The images of riot police clashing with protesters at the airport further dented Hong Kong’s reputation as a stable place to do business during the 11th week of protests against a Bill allowing extraditions to China.
Chinese state media on Wednesday called on Beijing to deal with protests in Hong Kong more decisively after a reporter from one of China's largest government-backed newspapers was caught up in overnight clashes.
Ten weeks of increasingly violent clashes between police and pro-democracy protesters, angered by a perceived erosion of freedoms, are posing one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
Demonstrators and riot police clashed at Hong Kong's airport late on Tuesday after flights were cancelled for a second day.
Protesters at one point held a man who Chinese media have said was a reporter from China's Global Times newspaper.
A front-page commentary on the overseas edition of the Communist Party's official People's Daily newspaper said on Wednesday that Hong Kong had reached a critical juncture.
"Using the sword of the law to stop violence and restore order is overwhelmingly the most important and urgent task for Hong Kong!" it said.
Another commentary by a Shenzhen University researcher, published by the China Daily, said the central government should deal with Hong Kong issues more decisively.
"Extreme political ideas have found frequent expression in Hong Kong, with some even raising 'Hong Kong independence' slogans recently. Which means the 'one country, two systems' principle faces a new challenge," Chinese author Li Peiwen said.
Chinese state media has also posted messages of support for the Hong Kong police, describing what was happening in the city as "a shame". Such posts were the most-discussed topics on China's social media platforms on Wednesday.
"We support the Hong Kong police too!" said a post on the People's Daily's official Twitter-like Weibo account that was reposted more than 500,000 times.
Global Times editor Hu Xijin said one of the newspaper's reporters was rescued by police after being tied up by demonstrators. The tabloid is published by the People's Daily.
"GT reporter Fu Guohao has been rescued by police and sent to the hospital. We're still learning about his injury conditions," said in a tweet.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV called Mr Fu "a real man" in another Weibo post that had more than 140,000 "likes".
Netizens have been closely watching what Beijing might do next after China this week condemned some protesters for using dangerous tools to attack police and said the clashes showed "sprouts of terrorism".
The Global Times reported on Monday that China's People's Armed Police had assembled in the south-eastern city of Shenzhen, fuelling speculation of a possible intervention in Hong Kong.
Some reactions on China's social media platforms called for Beijing to intervene while many others urged calm.