The Chinese government on Monday laid down its firm support of Hong Kong’s beleaguered leader and police force but failed to offer any clear solutions after two months of rolling protests that have flared into violence and stoked opposition to Chinese rule.
Chinese officials made a strongly worded defence of the local Hong Kong authorities during a rare news conference in Beijing by the government office that oversees policy toward the city. But they failed to address the demonstrators’ demands for more accountability in the police force and a greater say in the city’s future, which could pave the way for more unrest.
“Hong Kong cannot afford to have instability,” Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told reporters. “Should the chaos continue, it is the entire Hong Kong society that will suffer.”
Protest organizers quickly said the briefing could feed the momentum of the demonstrations by reinforcing the widely held perception that Beijing and the city’s leadership are oblivious to the will of Hong Kong’s residents.
The remarks by Chinese officials Monday came days after a People’s Liberation Army spokesman hinted that military force could be used to bring to heel the anti-government demonstrations that have become regular events in Hong Kong since June. The demonstrations have repeatedly spiralled into violent melees as smaller groups of more confrontational protesters have faced off with police officers who have used tear gas and clubs against them, including last weekend.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Yang expressed support for the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, and the police, who have come under criticism for what protesters say is the excessive use of force against demonstrators. Later, another official at the news conference, Xu Luying, emphasized that the central government would continue to support Ms. Lam “in governing under the law, and unifying and leading Hong Kong people from all walks of life to defend Hong Kong’s political situation of prosperity and stability.”
Mr. Yang also said the Hong Kong government should work on addressing economic issues including challenges with employment and schooling, a housing crisis and the rising cost of living.
The news briefing appeared aimed at dousing the wave of opposition in Hong Kong – the most sustained challenge to China’s hold over the territory since 1997, when Britain returned it to Chinese sovereignty.
By emphasizing its support for Ms. Lam but also her responsibility in upholding the law, central government officials seemed to indicate that it was now up to Ms. Lam, her administration and the police to put an end to the months of strife.
The news briefing also appeared aimed at signalling that the ruling Communist Party in Beijing is watching developments in the territory very closely and wants to frame the unrest as the work of the party’s enemies, as well as economic strains, and not a result of failings in its policies toward Hong Kong.
Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the officials’ emphasis on providing job and business opportunities in the mainland for the youth of Hong Kong was Beijing’s way of “throwing money at the problem.”
“There was no sign of tackling the crux of the issue, which is lack of democratic development in Hong Kong,” Prof. Lam said. “No new solutions were provided.”
The cycle of protests and forceful police response continued over the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at crowds of demonstrators who had come out to denounce a mob attack on protesters and what they say is a police force that acts without accountability.
On Monday, the Chinese government defended the city’s police force. “We understand the huge pressure facing the Hong Kong police and their families, and would like to salute the Hong Kong police who have been fearlessly sticking to their posts and fulfilling their duties against all odds,” Mr. Yang said.
Mr. Yang also condemned the violence of Saturday’s protest, in which demonstrators ripped off fences and moved steel barricades to form blockades, and threw hard objects at the police. But Mr. Yang did not specifically address the mob attack that had prompted that rally in the first place, deferring to earlier comments from the police. He appeared to dismiss as “unfounded” the fears some have that organized crime societies are colluding with authorities to carry out political violence.
Reports in the Chinese state news media have also defended the Hong Kong police and even urged them to take more forceful measures.
“Hong Kong police must no longer be like gentle nannies when they’re enforcing the law,” an editorial in the overseas edition of People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s main newspaper, said Monday.
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