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Riot police prepare to push back protesters outside the central government’s liaison office in Sai Ying Pun. Photo: Sam Tsang

Chinese state media calls for ‘forceful’ police action to end Hong Kong unrest

  • People’s Daily publishes strong commentary hours before first announcement from Beijing on city crisis
  • It followed weekend of violent protests which saw police using tear gas and rubber bullets

Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily has called on the Hong Kong police to take immediate and forceful action to end the unrest and restore law and order in the city, in a strongly worded commentary published on Monday.

“At a time like this, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government and the police should not hesitate or have any unnecessary ‘psychological worries’ about taking all necessary steps [to restore order],” the commentary said.

“The SAR government and police should not forget that their strongest backing comes from the sacred missions bestowed on them by the Basic Law and the law of Hong Kong, and hence the SAR government and the police must act now in accordance with the laws, and punish all those perpetrators of violence as prescribed by the law.

“We cannot condone the lawbreakers just because they are holding up high the banner of ‘freedom and democracy’ or wearing the hat of ‘civil disobedience’.”

The commentary followed a weekend of violent protests in Yuen Long and Hong Kong’s Central district which saw the city’s police using tear gas and rubber bullets outside the central government’s liaison office in one of the bloodiest clashes with anti-government protesters since June.

The protesters have demanded a complete withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill – which would allow the transfer of criminal suspects to other jurisdictions, including mainland China – and the establishment of an independent inquiry into the police’s handing of the protests.

The commentary also came just hours before the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office was set to hold a press conference in Beijing to outline “its stance and views on Hong Kong’s current situation”. The South China Morning Post will carry live coverage of the press conference from 3pm.

Beijing to respond to unrest in Hong Kong after more violent clashes

Although China’s state media has published editorials and commentaries critical of the protests in Hong Kong in the past month, Monday’s People’s Daily commentary clearly stated that the city government and police could not continue their “conciliatory” approach and hold back in their actions for worries over “political backfiring”.

“Putting an end to and punishing unlawful behaviours is a priority task of Hong Kong police,” the commentary said. “Because of political reasons, [the police] have been hesitant to act, and this is not a normal situation.

“As such, Hong Kong has lost its normal way of life as a society governed by the rule of law, and fallen into the ‘trap’ of foreign forces who are determined to sow unrest in China in the name of ‘democracy’,” it added.

The article repeated Beijing’s assertion that the anti-government protests in Hong Kong were instigated by Western forces, backing the claim by quoting statements from the US State Department on respecting the “freedom of speech and assembly” by the protesters.

The commentary also cited the British government suspension of exports of anti-riot gear to Hong Kong as further evidence of interference by foreign powers into Hong Kong’s affairs.

Protesters use ‘guerilla tactics’ in clashes stretching from Sai Wan to Causeway Bay

The article reiterated that without social stability, there could be no democracy in Hong Kong. “Rule of law is a core value of Hong Kong, and a prerequisite for democracy,” the commentary said. “If the rule of law is violated, and the society becomes unstable, then how can we talk about democracy?”

Also on Monday, People’s Daily published a commentary by Su Xiaohui, from a Chinese foreign ministry think tank, condemning the pro-democracy Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) for calling on foreign governments to issue travel alerts on Hong Kong.

“This move has exposed the pro-independence nature of the CHRF … And recently, CHRF has planned and organised extremely violent acts under the pretext of the extradition bill, severely undermined the rule of law in Hong Kong, and jeopardised Hong Kong’s safety, stability, law and order, and damaged the city’s image,” Su said.

Su, a deputy director of the China Institute of International Studies’ Department of International and Strategic Studies, also said tourism was one of Hong Kong’s traditional pillar industries. “Once the brand is damaged, it will be very difficult to restore.”

Henry Chan, senior visiting research fellow at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said People’s Daily had sent an important message in support of the Hong Kong police, who have faced widespread criticism for failing to protect ordinary citizens.

“Beijing knows that, under ‘one country, two systems’, the Hong Kong police is the only institution that can prevent Hong Kong from falling into anarchy,” Chan said.

“I believe this message would be reinforced in this afternoon’s HKMAO’s presser,” he added.

The press conference will be the first time the HKMAO has held a press briefing on the city since the 1997 handover. It also suggests the Chinese leadership may have reached a decision on ending the wave of mass protests in Hong Kong.

Additional reporting by William Zheng