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Monday, February 6th, 2023

Beijing breaks silence over Hong Kong crisis after weekend of violence

Another spokeswoman Xu Luying said “many people in Hong Kong are supporting [Carrie Lam’s] work, although quietly”.

Asked whether Lam had lost the support of Hong Kong people, Yang said: “when we look at the situation on Hong Kong what is most dangerous is lack of dealing with criminal and violent elements”.

A firefighter extinguishes a fire set by demonstrators during a protest in Sheung Wan district of Hong Kong.Credit:Bloomberg

He said the central government was confident Lam’s office and effective police enforcement would “bring things back to normal”.

Asked about the prospect of Chinese garrison troops being called onto the streets in Hong Kong, Yang declined to comment.

“The most pressing task for the moment is to punish the violence,” he said.

He said the Hong Kong government had to find more effective measures to improve young people’s lives and solve problems with housing and job creation, and would be backed by Beijing.

A protester throws a tear gas canister which was fired by riot police during a protest in Hong Kong on Sunday. Credit:AP

On Sunday 49 people were arrested for illegal assembly and carrying weapons after Hong Kong city streets descended into chaos as riot police fought thousands of protesters, while residents, tourists and restaurant diners, including children, were affected by large volumes of tear gas.

The press briefing came on the same day as flags were flown at half mast for the state funeral of former Chinese premier Li Peng, the leader who had presided over the brutal crackdown on protesting students in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Opposition politicians in Hong Kong expressed dismay at the police tactics on Sunday, and the use of tear gas in the centre of the city, as protesters ignored police bans on the latest marches.

But a Hong Kong government statement on Monday “strongly condemned the radical protesters” and said the government fully supported the police “to resume public order as soon as possible”.

The official China Daily newspaper on Monday compared the Hong Kong protesters to a “colour revolution”.

“What is happening in Hong Kong is no longer the airing of real or imagined grievances. It is of the same hue as the colour revolutions that were instigated in the Middle East and North Africa – local anti-government elements colluding with external forces to topple governments utilising modern communication technology to spread rumours, distrust and fear,” said the editorial in an apparent reference to the Arab Spring.

The first page of the overseas edition of People’s Daily  attacked the organisers of the earlier peaceful marches of 1 to 2 million people, the Civil Human Rights Front, for endangering the Hong Kong tourism industry. It claimed Hong Kong independence forces were trying to provoke overseas intervention.

But the group was not behind last weekend’s violent protests, where black clad protesters self-organised through social media.

Chants of “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time”, the election slogan of independence activist Edward Leung, before he was jailed for rioting, could be heard.


Yet the demands of the protesters have focused on preservation of the autonomy and freedoms promised under the “One Country, Two Systems” deal made between Britain and China in 1997, after what is perceived as steady encroachment by Beijing.

A widening number of community and business groups have called for an independent commission into police handling of the protests, withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill that unchained the unrest, and universal suffrage in the election of Hong Kong’s top leader .

Civil servants plan to hold a rally asking the government to respond to community concerns on Friday.

Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan wrote on his blog that the longer the protests continued, the bigger the impact would be on small businesses. Hong Kong’s international image and business environment had already been damaged. “Everyone is worried about the future of Hong Kong,” he wrote.


Opposition politician Fernando Cheung accused police of rebelling after the police association criticised an apology to the public on Friday by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung about police behaviour.

The accusation in Chinese state media that the US was a “black hand” orchestrating the protests has been met with ridicule online in Hong Kong, after mainland Chinese social media posts circulated as “evidence” a picture of actor Matt Damon who plays spy Jason Bourne in a serious of fictitious movies.

Two pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong on Monday claimed New York Times staff who were covering Sunday’s protests were foreign protester commanders, which was swiftly rebutted. China Daily pointed to “a media tycoon who recently met with United States Vice President Mike Pence”, a reference to Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai.

The weekend saw two successive nights of the worst violence since the protests began in June.

Sheung Wan, an area with many tourist hotels, was the scene of pitched battles between police and protesters, with protesters throwing flaming tear gas grenades back at police whom made heavy use of rubber bullets.

The volume of drifting tear gas hit apartment residents nearby in the narrow streets, as well as restaurant diners, with photographs emerging of small children treated by medics outside a McDonald’s.

Train services were suspended on Sunday. Police fired pepper spray into the Sheung Wan MTR station where protesters had retreated. Protesters were spraying water up the stairs to prevent officers from entering the station.

Police regained control of Sheung Wan after 11pm as protesters were moved back towards Central and the IFC Mall, another popular tourist site, and dispersed before midnight.

Kirsty Needham is China Correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.