Beijing made it clear to Hong Kong on Monday that a return to law and order should be “the most pressing priority”, and praised the city’s beleaguered police officers in an unprecedented show of support, despite heavy public criticism over allegations of excessive force used against anti-government protesters.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) under the State Council, China’s cabinet, struck a measured tone in responding for the first time to the escalating social unrest gripping the city since June, triggered by the now-shelved extradition bill.
Beijing’s eagerness to ease tensions and see the city returning to normality was evident at the HKMAO’s first press conference on Hong Kong since its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Office spokesman Yang Guang reiterated the central government’s support for embattled Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and urged the Hong Kong public to oppose the use of violence.
But the most striking part of the 40-minute press conference was the HKMAO’s undiluted praise for Hong Kong police, who are grappling with criticism from all sides for their handling of the massive, often violent, anti-government protests.
in Hong Kong had gone “far beyond the scope of peaceful marches and demonstrations”, he noted, and had undermined the city’s prosperity and stability.
Yang, however, did not use the words “riots” or “rioters” to describe the civil unrest in the city.
…Instead, he focused on appealing to Hong Kong people to defend the rule of law as a core value of the city and a cornerstone of its success.
…When asked about the possibility of the People’s Liberation Army being called in, Yang would only say the basis for such a deployment was outlined in the Basic Law and Garrison Law.
…When asked if Beijing had ever considered removing the chief executive, whose ill-advised legislative proposal to allow the transfer of criminal suspects to jurisdictions including the mainland triggered the political crisis, Yang said the central government would “resolutely” support Lam.
…He said Lam had already acknowledged there were shortcomings in her policies and promised to take steps to improve her governance.
…Most mainland Chinese analysts described Yang’s comments as soft and moderate.
“It shows Beijing is still patient and tolerant. It wants to win over the majority in Hong Kong by making a difference between peaceful demonstrations and unlawful protests and violence,” said Zhang Dinghuai, an expert on China’s Hong Kong policy at Shenzhen University.
Li Huan, an expert at The Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the central government saw the police force as the city’s “pillar of stability” and wanted to offer law enforcers some encouragement in their moment of crisis.
“Hong Kong police and Hong Kong civil servants are the two keys to uphold the principle of ‘Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong’,” he said. “Some civil servants have already violated the principle of political neutrality [by joining the demonstration]. Police so far are carrying out their duty faithfully. They deserve support.”
Tian Feilong, associate professor at Beihang University’s Law School in Beijing, said the central government was still hopeful that Hong Kong could resolve the crisis by itself.“Unless Hong Kong is totally out of control, the central government does not want to get involved,” he said.
Sensible enough by Beijing. But will it stop? Also at SCMP:
Hong Kong’s civil servants, known for their unflappable professionalism and political neutrality, plan to take to the streets over the government’s now-abandoned extradition bill, piling pressure on the city’s embattled leader to address protesters’ demands.
The unprecedented rally, scheduled for Friday at Chater Garden in Central, is expected to draw 2,000 government workers and other demonstrators.
“We concur with the principle that political neutrality should be upheld by civil servants when performing duties, but it doesn’t mean that we are deprived of the right to make our voice heard on political issues or social injustice,” Michael Ngan Mo-chau, one of the rally organisers who works in the Labour Department, said on Friday.
“Because underneath our uniform, we are also citizens of Hong Kong.”
The guerrilla warfare playbook is to keep pushing until the regime overreacts, at which point it begins to lose even hardened supporters. This is a little different given it is already a popular uprising but the dynamics may still play out the same way.
Moderation is still Beijing’s greatest ally.
He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.