A month-long protest against the extradition bill has turned violent in recent weeks with rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets fired on the busy streets of Hong Kong. The escalating violent clashes have prompted Beijing to break its silence on Monday to show ‘resolute support’ for the Hong Kong government and police, as widely expected.
“The Chinese government supports chief executive Carrie Lam resolutely to lead the Hong Kong SAR government to govern in accordance with the law,” said Yang Guang, the news spokesman for The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, in a rare press conference held by the State Council.
“[The Chinese government] supports the Hong Kong police resolutely to strictly enforce the law, and supports the relevant departments and authorities resolutely to punish the violent lawbreakers in accordance with the law,” he added.
The ‘resolute support’ is Beijing’s response to Hong Kong’s biggest political crisis since the handover in 1997. It started in June when the government was trying to push through the hugely unpopular extradition bill that would allow suspects to be sent to China for trial. Many at home and abroad feared for being handed over to China by Hong Kong for crossing China’s red line and going through trials that lack transparency.
“Beijing has misjudged the situation,” said Wu Chi Wai, chairman of the Democratic Party. He described Beijing’s response as tying a dead knot to block any resolution and warned it will only incite more clashes.
Beijing had remained silent on the issue to let Lam handle the crisis and speak to the public, but Lam seemed to only make things worse by failing to reassure the public and expressing support to the police repeatedly, which have been accused of using excessive force on civilians and the press.
The clashes came to new heights when protestors besieged Beijing’s liaison office in Sai Wan on July 21. Protestors spray-painted anti-Chinese slogans and vandalised the Chinese emblem to show their disdain for Beijing denying Hong Kong universal suffrage despite promises made in the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de-facto constitution.
Beijing strongly denounced the protest, saying it has put the ‘one country, two systems’ model at stake and impaired Hong Kong’s international reputation.
With that said, the protest has been gaining wider support in the autonomous city, especially following the indiscriminate attack in Yuen Long MTR station organised by triad groups that aimed at protestors on July 21. Police were 39 minutes late to the scene to arrest the attackers and over 45 were injured. The incident marked as a turning point in moving public sentiment towards sympathy with the protestors, who are mostly in their teens and 20s.
To date, civil servants under Lam’s administration, other disciplined forces, MTR staff, the business sector and numerous citizens have joined in the call for an independent investigation into police actions over the past month.
In a heavyweight message, The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce called for the “establishment of a Commission of Inquiry immediately to independently examine the facts surrounding the events that are at the root of the tensions and their escalation to the current situation impacting our community.”
But this is only one of the five demands from the protestors, which also include withdrawing the extradition bill formally, withdrawing the “riot” characterisation of the June 12 protests, giving amnesty to the arrested protesters, and universal suffrage.
So far, the Hong Kong government has yet to respond to any of the five demands and protestors are threatening a citywide strike this week.
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