China warns Hong Kong protesters will be 'punished' and refuses to rule out military intervention

Sophia Yan
A protester throw a stone towards police outside Tin Shui Wai police station during a protest on August 05 - 2019 Getty Images

China warned protesters in Hong Kong they would soon be punished for “criminal acts,” refusing to rule out military force to restore order as near-daily demonstrations have plunged the city into chaos.

Demonstrators who have been in the streets all summer are causing “Hong Kong to slide into a dangerous abyss,” said Yang Guang, a spokesperson for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, which reports directly to China’s cabinet. “As for their punishment, it’s only a matter of time.”

The Chinese government will never allow any acts that challenge national unity, sovereignty or security, he said, sternly reminding residents that the People’s Liberation Army was a “strong and reliable force that defends every inch of its territory.” 

In a jab at protesters, Mr Yang referred to their main slogan, “Reclaim Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” by reminding them Hong Kong was a part of China, saying, “I want to ask those people shouting this, ‘what of Hong Kong do you want to reclaim? Where exactly do you want to reclaim Hong Kong to?”

Beijing also reiterated its support for Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and condemned activists several times for desecrating the Chinese flag by throwing it into the ocean twice in as many days. 

Authorities again accused foreign nations, including the US, for “meddling” in Hong Kong as a way to disrupt China’s stability, and even blamed poor family values and school education for pushing youths to the streets, stressing that better national education was needed to promote patriotism. 

The ominous words came as official state media circulated a video of mainland Chinese police engaging in anti-riot drills in Shenzhen, a city just across the border from Hong Kong, shooting tear gas and charging at protesters dressed in black in scenes that resemble the current clashes.

On Monday, Hong Kong was paralysed with more than 200 flights cancelled, widespread disruption to subway services, and tumult on the roads as protesters cut electricity to traffic lights and flooded main avenues.

Police fired tear gas as early as mid-afternoon to disperse crowds, shooting 800 more rounds of tear gas, 140 rubber bullet and 20 sponge rounds, enveloping several neighbourhoods with clouds of smoke late into the night. They also arrested 148 people, aged 13 to 63. 

Monday represented a significant escalation of violence. Until then, police had fired 1,000 rounds of tear gas, 150 of sponge grenades and 160 rounds of rubber bullets in two months of protests.

Despite fast-growing tensions, Hong Kong authorities have refused to make any concessions to the protesters’ demands, which have expanded from formal withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill to include the resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam, an independent inquiry into police brutality and direct leadership elections. 

With Beijing also clearly unwilling to back down, protesters are likely to be further enraged with more demonstrations and strikes planned through August.

“I can’t even count how many times I have attended rallies and protests,” said Fergana Chung, 29, who works in marketing. “Carrie Lam is still giving us the same response. It’s to the point where even people who don’t care about politics are noticing what’s happening in Hong Kong. As more citizens join us, I hope the government won’t escape anymore. “ 

Additional reporting by Yiyin Zhong