Beijing has painted a grim picture of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, raising cautionary flags against possible terrorism at an ad-hoc press conference held in haste on Monday.
The State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office claimed that “elements of terrorism” had started to emerge as violence erupted in clashes last weekend.
The remarks further fueled speculation of whether the People’s Liberation Army may be mobilized to quell the unrest, while many in the city fret about possible serious repercussions if that occurs.
The office also summoned members of the Chinese parliament, political advisory bodies, plus other heavies in Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp to Shenzhen last week to get Beijing’s message across more effectively.
Lo Man-tuen, a Beijing loyalist and a deputy director of the foreign affairs subcommittee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, revealed what he was told by Beijing cadres in the Shenzhen meeting, in a column in a local paper on Wednesday.
He claimed that calling in the PLA would not mean the death of the “One country, two systems” framework for Hong Kong, as that had always been part of the arrangement stipulated in the Basic Law, the city’s constitutional document.
He also argued that if the gates of the PLA barracks had to be swung open, it would be because of Hong Kong’s inability to restore order, not a spur-of-the-moment decision by Beijing.
“Garrisoning the PLA troops in Hong Kong and deploying them to fight violence, if the Hong Kong government fails to do so, has always been part and parcel of the ‘One country, two systems’ deal conceived by Deng Xiaoping, thus when the soldiers are out, it will not mean the end of the deal,” Lo wrote in the Ming Pao daily.
He quoted Zhang Xiaoming, head of Beijing’s office in Hong Kong, as saying that the PLA “can easily crush the revolt” in the former British enclave if the local police fail to do the job, but police had to enforce the law and go after radicals first and foremost.
The Basic Law provides two ways for the PLA to take over the city – either a request by the city’s government that is approved by the State Council in the face of a crisis beyond the city’s control, or through a declaration of emergency by the Chinese parliament if chaos in the city poses a threat to China’s sovereignty and national security.
Major business impact
Lo admitted that even if “One country, two systems” carries on, mobilizing the PLA in Hong Kong would scuttle the city’s ability to continue as a financial center and hit its economy – a prospect that most Hongkongers would dread.
“Thus they should not condone violence, but support the efforts of the police to bring the city back to its track, to eliminate the need for the PLA in the first place,” Lo said.
Also on Wednesday, US President Donald Trump tweeted that Beijing was moving troops to the border near Hong Kong, citing an American intelligence report, but it was unclear if he was referring to fresh troop reinforcements, or those already reported in the media this month.
Speaking to reporters in New Jersey on Tuesday, Trump called the situation in Hong Kong “very tricky”. “I hope it works out peacefully, nobody gets hurt, nobody gets killed,” he said.
In the meantime, China’s state and social media continues to be swamped with videos and photos of fresh clashes at Hong Kong’s airport, as well as security forces congregating in Shenzhen.
The mainland city that shares the border with Hong Kong has seen regiments of military police gathering as armored personnel carriers ply the city’s streets. The local government, however, said the deployment was for a drill to hone coordination and skills of the police in the lead-up to the many celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Communist republic on October 1.
The Basic Law does not have any clause to enable Chinese police to cross the border to enforce laws.