China Calls on Hong Kong People to Oppose Violent Protesters
Demonstrators are shrouded in a cloud of tear gas during a protest in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg)

China Calls on Hong Kong People to Oppose Violent Protesters

(Bloomberg) -- China urged Hong Kong residents to stand up to protesters challenging the government, after a general strike that led to a day of traffic chaos, mob violence, tear gas and flight cancellations.

In some of the Chinese government’s strongest comments yet on the unrest gripping the Asian financial hub, the top agency overseeing Hong Kong reiterated support for local leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday and said efforts to force her resignation would fail. Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office spokesman Yang Guang called on residents to “stand firm and guard our beautiful homeland,” citing a few examples of local people criticizing protesters.

China Calls on Hong Kong People to Oppose Violent Protesters

“We would like to make it clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them,” Yang told reporters in Beijing. “Those who play with fire will perish by it.”

The news conference was the second Beijing press event on Hong Kong since the agency’s first unprecedented briefing last week. While the Chinese government reaffirmed support for Lam and the local police, Yang again refused to rule out a military intervention, saying Beijing would never allow unrest to “go beyond the control” of the local government and endanger national unity and security.

The protest movement started attracting historic crowds in June to oppose a bill that would’ve allowed extraditions to the mainland and has since morphed into a broader challenge to China. Lam has failed to stem the momentum of protesters who are demanding that she withdraw the bill completely and step down from her position.

The city’s Tuesday commute returned to normal after Monday morning demonstrations left rush hour traffic snarled, subway lines inoperable and airport operations disrupted. Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. said it canceled more than 140 flights coming to and from the city, while Hong Kong Airlines Ltd. scrapped 30 flights.

Ken Yau, a lecturer on the University of Hong Kong’s social sciences faculty, said statements from Beijing urging people to stand up to protesters could encourage vigilante groups who have recently assaulted them. “If Beijing wanted to take a more popular strategy, they should have highlighted their distance from these gangsters, but this implies that they give a green light to them,” Yau said.

China Calls on Hong Kong People to Oppose Violent Protesters

Thousands of black-shirted protesters rallied later Monday in various locations across the city, chanting “strike!” and blocking roads. Police fired tear gas to disperse crowds, while mob violence broke out as men with sticks attacked protesters. The government condemned demonstrators for attacking at least two police stations and setting fire to various objects.

Police fired about 800 tear gas rounds, 140 rubber bullet

Read More: H.K. Security Chief Says Monday Clashes Most Serious Since 1997

s, and 20 sponge grenades Monday, the police said. That’s compared with the some 1,000 rounds of tear gas that police said they used against protesters between June 9 and Aug. 4.

In recent weeks, protesters and nearby bystanders have also found themselves targeted by gangs of stick-wielding men, including a July 21 attack in the northern suburb of Yuen Long that resulted in the arrest of some suspects with connections to the city’s notorious triad gangs. On Monday, there were reports of similar attacks in the North Point and Tsuen Wan areas.

Yang, of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, wasn’t asked about the mob attacks on Tuesday. When queried about the Yuen Long incident last week, he said, “I hope that Hong Kong people from all walks of life will clearly oppose and resist the violence.”

The MSCI Hong Kong Index pared losses to close 0.6% lower Tuesday, its 10th straight day of declines. The last time local stocks has such a long losing streak was June-July 1984, five months before China and the U.K signed their agreement on Hong Kong’s return in 1997.

The unrest has hit the city’s economy, denting tourism and retail sales to worsen the pain from the U.S.-China trade war. The IHS Markit PMI for Hong Kong sank to 43.8 in July from 47.9 a month earlier. That’s its lowest reading since March 2009, when the fallout from the global financial crisis was still raging. Financial Secretary Paul Chan warned Monday that the city risks a recession as protests continue.

“We have seen some behavior from protesters that is challenging ‘one country, two systems’ and threatening national sovereignty,” Lam told reporters Monday, flanked by senior members of her administration. “And I could even dare to say some are trying to ruin Hong Kong and completely destroy the livelihood of seven million citizens.”

China Calls on Hong Kong People to Oppose Violent Protesters

Neither Hong Kong nor the Chinese governments made any new concessions to protesters, with Lam saying she didn’t think her resignation -- one of their key demands -- would provide a resolution to the unrest. She also called them a threat to national security, hours after they interrupted service on almost all of the city’s metro lines -- though it resumed by early afternoon.

Opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo said it was “very regrettable” that the Chinese government would describe the unrest as subversive. “This is not just unfair, this is almost like smearing on the part of the Beijing authorities,” Mo said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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