Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 September 2019

China warns of Hong Kong clampdown

Ambassador to the UK says that Beijing will not sit back if protests become uncontrollable

Chinese soldiers at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre in Shenzhen across the bay from Hong Kong. REUTERS
Chinese soldiers at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre in Shenzhen across the bay from Hong Kong. REUTERS

China warned on Thursday that it had the power to quell protests swiftly in Hong Kong if police could not cope with weeks of demonstrations that mark the strongest challenge to Beijing since the 1997 British handover.

China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, said authorities would not sit back if the situation became “uncontrollable” for authorities in Hong Kong, raising the prospect of intervention from Chinese troops posted in the former British colony and at the region's borders.

Mr Xiaoming repeatedly deflected questions about the potential use of the military and live rounds against the demonstrators but claimed that the central government would work within the laws established after the 1997 handover from the UK to bring violence to an end.

“Should the situation in Hong Kong deteriorate…. The central government would not sit on its hands and watch,” Mr Xiaoming told reporters at the Chinese embassy in London. “We have enough solutions and enough power within the limits of Basic Law to quell any unrest swiftly.”

He said that the situation was “critical” and the authorities were prepared for the worst – while also warning foreign powers not to interfere in China’s affairs.

The ambassador stepped up the rhetoric against the leaders of the protest, claiming that they displayed signs of terrorism and vowed they would not drag Hong Kong “down a dangerous abyss”. He said that "violent offenders" should be brought to justice.

The movement, which has resulted in millions taking to Hong Kong's streets, was sparked by opposition to a planned law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. It quickly evolved into a much broader campaign for democratic freedoms and efforts to stop the growing influence of China's rulers in the semi-autonomous city.

Thousands of protesters wearing black shirts at Hong Kong’s international airport have caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled, with graphic images of clashes between protesters and Hong Kong’s police force broadcast across the world.

Protesters adopted more aggressive tactics on Tuesday, creating barricades with luggage trolleys to block passengers at the departure halls. They turned on two men, amid fears they were spies. One of them was a journalist for the state-controlled Global Times newspaper, which has condemned the protests.

Demonstrators on Wednesday apologised for their actions at the airport, saying they were sorry that some of their number became “easily agitated and over-reacted.”

Flights resumed to and from the airport on Wednesday, following an injunction obtained by the Airport Authority and extra security measures outside the terminals.

Tourists have cancelled hotel bookings, adding to increasing economic concerns for Hong Kong, which has been affected by China’s economic slowdown and hit by the year-long US-China trade war.

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday night added to fears Beijing may be prepared to stage a military intervention to end the unrest, saying his intelligence had confirmed Chinese troop movements towards the Hong Kong border.

“I hope it works out for everybody including China. I hope it works out peacefully, nobody gets hurt, nobody gets killed,” he said.

Updated: August 15, 2019 03:56 PM

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