China warns Hong Kong protesters that punishment is coming

Thursday, 08 Aug, 2019

Protesters in Hong Kong should not "play with hearth" and mistake China's restraint for weak spot, Beijing has warned, in its sharpest rebuke but of the demonstrations within the semi-autonomous metropolis.

What started as an angry response to a now-suspended extradition bill, which would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, now includes demands for greater democracy and the resignation of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.

Yang singled out "brazen, violent and criminal actors" and the "meddling hands behind the scenes" as the focus law enforcement efforts, saying "as for their punishment, it's only a matter of time".

"We are doing this to tell others that possessing a pen doesn't mean having an offensive weapon, it has other purposes", she said, adding the shop proprietor would also have been arrested if he were selling actual weapons.

Yang's comments came a day after Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, vowed to restore order in the city after nine weeks of almost uninterrupted demonstrations.

They gathered at the museum with the devices in protest against the police arrest of a university student who was suspected of buying multiple "laser guns" the previous day.

The latest protests caught fire in June to oppose a proposed law that would have allowed some in the territory accused of serious crimes to be extradited to mainland China for prosecution.

"It's reached a point where threats aren't going to make things go away now", says Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong-based lawyer and writer.

Police stations came under attack from protesters hurling stones, eggs, bottles and using slingshots that fired bricks.

"They have openly and brazenly emboldened violent radicals, and overtly and covertly coordinated, directed and funded protests", he said.

For Xi, an attempt to forcefully suppress the unrest with the Chinese military would end Hong Kong's status as an global financial hub and deal a serious blow to his ambition of bringing Taiwan, the self-ruled island that split from mainland China in 1949, under Communist Party control.

He also called on Hong Kong citizens to turn on the protesters by refusing to accept their promotional materials and opposing disruptions to public transport.

Videos posted online on Tuesday showed protesters using traffic cones to contain tear gas canisters being used by police.

But 2019's protests feel more existential to many Hong Kong protesters, who say freedoms have slid even further since Beijing successfully faced down the Umbrella Movement.

In particular, they hit out at recent economic warnings from financial secretary Paul Chan that the protests slowed down Hong Kong's economy in the second quarter of this year.

Still, Yang appeared to strike a restrained note days after the PLA garrison in Hong Kong released a provocative video showing Chinese soldiers training to put down civil unrest. Major roads and public transit lines were blocked, while at least 77 flights out of the airport were cancelled.

Associate Professor Alfred Wu of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said China's strategy of blaming foreign intervention for its problems is a recurring one, which was also used by the Hong Kong government during the Occupy Central movement in 2014.

"We are concerned about the effect this political uncertainty may have on our results, especially given the proportion of our income which is earned in Hong Kong", said Clement Kwok, CEO of the hotel group, in an earnings statement on Wednesday.