Advisers to the central government have stressed that Hong Kong has the legal means to end the city’s crisis, despite heated discussions and fears in the city that Beijing could intervene directly.
Speaking on Thursday at a briefing organised by the State Council Information Office, the legal scholars also said that despite stern official rhetoric in recent days, Beijing had not determined that the months of protests in Hong Kong were terrorist activities.
Earlier this week, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Beijing’s top office on Hong Kong affairs, escalated its condemnation of the protests, with its spokesman saying they showed “signs of terrorism” and “near acts of terrorism”.
Zou Pingxue, a law professor of Shenzhen University and a member of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, would not say whether Beijing would heed any of the protesters’ demands but stressed that the Hong Kong government had the legal tools to end the unrest and restore law and order.
“Besides those [laws] that have already been invoked, the chief executive and the Executive Council also have the power to prohibit any public gatherings, declare ‘no trespassing’ in certain areas or even order a curfew,” Zou said, referring to provisions under Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance that would give police extra power to maintain law and order.
Zou also applauded as effective a court injunction barring protesters from occupying the terminal buildings at Hong Kong International Airport.
The court order, secured by the Airport Authority on Wednesday, ended a five-day mass sit-in that had caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights in and out of the city and led to violent clashes between the protesters and police on Tuesday night.
The briefing was part of Beijing’s increasing efforts to speak directly to the Hong Kong public rather than the past practice of leaving it to the Hong Kong government to explain its policies and position for the city.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has a garrison in the city, has made thinly veiled warnings in recent weeks that they could step in to quash the protests if necessary, releasing videos of anti-riot drills involving mock protests.
But those warnings failed to defuse the tensions as protesters continued to demonstrate and vent their anger at police.
Hong Kong politicians, including National People’s Congress Standing Committee member Tam Yiu-chung, warned earlier this week that the committee could declare a state of emergency in the city if things got out of control, a move that could usher in Chinese law.
When asked if the Standing Committee would consider such a move, Han Dayuan, Renmin University law professor and the committee’s leading legal expert on the Basic Law, said there were provisions in the city’s mini-constitution for the mobilisation of the PLA to help maintain public order in Hong Kong. However, he also stressed that those provisions were mainly “preventive” in nature.
“If people wanted to start a riot and they knew the PLA were in Hong Kong, then they might think twice, and as such [things] can be handled promptly,” Han said, quoting late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.
“Many items in the Basic Law are preventive arrangements.
“[Prevention] is one of the legislative intents.”
Zhang Jian, director of Hong Kong and Macau Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said that although some officials had warned of “signs of terrorism”, Beijing had not yet drawn such a conclusion about the protests.
“This is a much discussed issue, and the way it is expressed underscores how the central government has interpreted [what’s happened] and its positions,” he said.
“What it means is that the violent clashes are at a transition and if they are not punished in accordance with the law, they could evolve into real terrorism.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong airport shutdown was necessary as the situation left management with no other choice, Allan Zeman says
- Hong Kong protests: as police and protesters change tactics, is more violence inevitable?
This article Existing Hong Kong law can put end to crisis, Beijing’s legal advisers say first appeared on South China Morning Post