China Condemns 'Horrendous Incidents' in Hong Kong in Rare Public Statement Following Weeks of Protests

The Chinese government has condemned the pro-democracy protest movement seizing Hong Kong, a rare public intervention in the current unrest in the semi-autonomous region.

In a Monday press conference, a spokesperson for China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said Beijing was d in full support of beleaguered Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the territory's police force, which has been accused of an unnecessarily brutal response to the protest movement.

Yang Guang called the demonstrations "horrendous" and said the recent violence was undermining Hong Kong's stability and prosperity, The Straits Times reported.

Hong Kong has been a part of China since the British handed control of the former colony back to Beijing in 1997, but operates under a "one country, two systems" agreement with the Communist Party government. This affords residents political and individual freedoms not enjoyed by their compatriots on the mainland.

The recent protests began over a proposed change to Hong Kong's extradition laws, which would have allowed the region's government to extradite criminals to China for trial. Opponents of the extradition legislation feared it would enable Beijing to target political opponents in Hong Kong and undermine the "one country, two systems" accord.

But Yang suggested that the demonstrations, rather than the proposed extradition bill, have "touched the bottom line of the 'one country, two systems' principle."

Following weeks of large-scale protests, Lam suspended the legislation—though did not withdraw it entirely. But the demands of the demonstrators multiplied to also include Lam's resignation and even universal suffrage. The movement has grown to pose the most significant challenge to Chinese rule since the 1997 handover.

The marches—and the response of police—have grown increasingly violent. It has become routine for riot police to use tear gas, rubber bullets and baton charges to disperse marchers, who themselves are increasingly well supplied with helmets, homemade shields, gas masks and projectiles.

Such scenes were repeated this weekend, as police battled to push protesters away from the China Liaison Office in downtown Hong Kong, which has become a focus of the demonstrators' anger.

Last week, groups of white shirt-wearing armed men stormed a subway station in the northwest of the territory, attacking those suspected of having attended the day's protests. The men injured at least 45 people. Reports suggested the men belonged to pro-Beijing criminal groups, but the Hong Kong government denied such a link.

On Monday, Yang called on Hong Kong residents to "stand firm in defense of the rule of law," which he said is a "cornerstone for the good business environment and the prosperity and stability" of the island.

He also warned that Beijing would "not sit idly by" and "let a small number of people trample on this important value." Yang also said that if the unrest continued, the "entire Hong Kong society" would suffer.

The Communist Party has been largely silent on the unrest, leaving its supporters in Hong Kong and state media to condemn the protests. But in the past week, Chinese officials have appeared more ready to criticize the pro-democracy movement.

Last week, Beijing noted that it had the right to deploy the military to help quell the unrest. China maintains a force of some 6,000 troops stationed at multiple facilities across Hong Kong, though has never used the soldiers to interfere in local politics.

On Monday, Yang said the "most urgent" challenge now is to restore order in the restive territory. He dismissed suggestions that criminal gangs had been colluding with the government to attack and suppress protesters, describing such reports as "totally groundless" despite video and photo evidence of the gangs interacting with police and a pro-Beijing lawmaker.

Yang also said Beijing would work with the Hong Kong government to address the concerns of young people around economic inequality, stagnant wages and the soaring cost of housing, all of which have imbued the protests with further frustration.

Hong Kong, China, protests, police
Riot police fire tear gas during a demonstration in the area of Sheung Wan on July 28, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. Laurel Chor/Getty