Many people in Hong Kong are questioning what they call the “disproportionate use of lethal force” by police after a 21-year-old student protester was shot and left in a critical condition in hospital during a street battle in Eastern District on Monday.

Some said the shot protester could have been subdued by police with a baton or pepper spray, even though he dashed onto the road and tried to swat the gun away from an officer who was struggling to pin another man to the ground.

A police officer fires live rounds at demonstrators. Photo: Cupid News

To many, the police seem to be deploying tougher tactics while rounding up radical demonstrators as the former British enclave hurtles into its 24th straight week of protests and clashes since June.

There have been rumors among local observers that Beijing, or the city’s government, gave tacit approval and “shoot-to-kill orders” using live ammunition to quell the unrest and that police in the front lines were given a free hand to draw their revolvers and fire live rounds at rioters when they deemed necessary.

Many reports claim that at least three rounds were fired during the rowdy incident on Monday morning. The Hong Kong police said in a statement issued at noon that one assailant charged at an officer who was holding his revolver and at that moment, the officer had to fire a shot to stop the man as he felt his life was threatened, a move in line with international standards. The statement added that the officer shot at the protester’s center mass.

“The use of force was undoubtedly lawful and reasonable,” said the statement.

Hong Kong papers including the Ming Pao Daily and South China Morning Post also cited sources refuting the police’s perceived escalated use of force was a result of an imperative from Beijing.

The papers quoted a law enforcement source as saying that there was “no correlation,” nor did the tougher tactics have anything to do with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s surprise meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week and her visit to Beijing to meet a deputy premier in charge of Beijing’s top taskforce on the city.

“The escalation of force is a response to the more violence used by protesters,” said the source.

Power to call the shots

Lam, the embattled Hong Kong leader, was assured of Beijing’s full trust and backing when summoned to meet Xi last Monday in Shanghai. However, Xi also highlighted the urgency to end the violence and to restore order in the special administrative region.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has his trust, during a meeting last Monday. Photo: Xinhua

Another senior cadre overseeing the running of the city broke his silence and expounded on what could be Beijing’s latest gauge of the status quo.

Zhang Xiaoming, head of the Chinese State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, noted in a long-winded piece on implementing the resolution of the fourth plenum of the 19th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, which concluded earlier this month, that the stalled enactment of a national security clause was breeding the violence and separatism engulfing the city.

Zhang Xiaoming. Photo: RTHK

Zhang was posted to Hong Kong as Beijing’s top envoy between 2012 and 2017, during which time he dealt with the city’s Umbrella Movement in 2014, calling for genuine universal suffrage.

Other than the hackneyed reiteration that the chief executive and principal officials in all branches of the government must be patriots, Zhang shed light on Beijing’s power to hand down directives to the city’s leader and depose key officials, as well as to declare a state of emergency in Hong Kong as stipulated in the Basic Law, the city’s constitutional document.

Under such an arrangement, Beijing could issue detailed orders and strategies to Lam on how to quell the unrest and even let uncooperative or incompetent officials within the government and police go, some observers say.

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