Mainland Chinese officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs are working on a comprehensive strategy to solve the city’s political crisis that will be presented to the top leadership for deliberation soon, according to people familiar with the discussion, but resorting to military force is not on the table. Officials are developing both an immediate strategy to handle the increasingly violent weeks-long protests in the city, as well as a long-term plan that may lead to an overhaul of Beijing’s approach to managing the restless former British colony. As a measure of the seriousness of the discussions, up for immediate consideration is a risk assessment of whether Chinese President Xi Jinping should visit Macau for the 20th anniversary celebrations of its reunification with the mainland later this year. Sources say at this stage Beijing still believes the crisis is best left for the Hong Kong government to handle and it should not get directly involved. The principles of avoiding bloodshed and keeping the city “largely stable” remain unchanged. Despite speculation to the contrary, they are firm about not considering the use of the People’s Liberation Army as an option. Sources say Beijing regards Hong Kong’s embattled police force as a critical factor in maintaining stability. While the restraint on the use of force by police has prevented tensions from escalating, it has also had an impact on officers’ morale. The key now, they say, is to strike a balance. Since the unprecedented protests broke out early last month in Hong Kong against the ill-fated extradition bill, Beijing has been dispatching a “record number of people” to the city to collect information and opinions from different sectors. Elderly take to streets in support of young extradition bill protesters The Chinese leadership has been taken aback by the scale and intensity of the protests, and is upset that its traditional intelligence channels in Hong Kong failed to accurately gauge the public mood, the sources said. “Obviously the system has not been working well. Voices that really reflect the mood of the public were not getting heard,” said a government-affiliated adviser who asked to remain anonymous. “The central leadership wasn’t alerted until the situation went out of control … There will surely be a revamp and overhaul of the system afterwards.” The Communist Party’s top unit on Hong Kong affairs – the Central Coordination Group for Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, led by Vice-Premier Han Zheng – has been collecting and consolidating reports and proposals from its frontline officers and now must formulate some options for discussion by the leadership. “The [coordination] group has been meeting to consolidate recent reports, and trying to come up with a comprehensive strategy to tackle the situation in Hong Kong,” a Chinese official with knowledge of the meeting said. “The top leadership has been keeping an eye on Hong Kong.” The immediate priority was to develop a strategy to keep Hong Kong stable and prevent the unrest from spreading or affecting other important national policies and agendas. Beijing would only make major adjustments to its longer-term Hong Kong strategy once the situation had stabilised, the official said. No money, no flat, no democracy: why young Hong Kong is angry Another adviser familiar with the situation said the approach right now was to “lure the snake from its hole” – meaning to taking a defensive position and wait for the opposition to fully expose its intention and strategy. This seems to indicate that Beijing is convinced the unrest in Hong Kong is not an isolated local incident and that foreign agents are at work with an aim to destabilise China’s overall development. The key response to prevent further escalation is to avoid bloodshed while uniting and strengthening the pro-establishment camp. A source who has helped prepare reports and proposals for Beijing said removing Hong Kong’s embattled chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor would only create confusion, undermine the local government’s authority and split the pro-establishment camp. Without a clear candidate to replace Lam, removing her would only lead to infighting among the pro-Beijing groups and distract their focus and energy, the source said. In the long run, sources said, the Hong Kong government needed to reflect on its problems and shortcomings and make improvements. In Beijing’s view, more frequent exchanges and communication between Hong Kong’s leader and the central government were needed and the once-a-year “duty visit” by the chief executive was no longer adequate, they said. Sources added that the Hong Kong police force was seen as critical to the mission to restore peace and stability to the city. They were “the last line of defence” that must be supported “at all costs”. Police anger at boiling point over backing for Hong Kong protesters Another official, involved in a government policy think tank, said the central government would continue to rely on the local police rather than the PLA garrison in Hong Kong to quell the unrest – even in a worst-case scenario resembling France’s “yellow vests” protests. China is about to enter a politically sensitive season. The top leadership, together with retired senior party elders, are expected to gather at their Beidaihe summer conclave around the end of this month where they will discuss national strategies and policy directions. With the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic also approaching, and an ongoing costly trade war with the US, the Chinese leadership needs to forge a consensus among themselves and make necessary adjustments. The Hong Kong issue is likely to feature in their discussions, a government scholar said.