29th July 2019 - China has backed Hong Kong’s beleaguered leader and police, saying violent protesters must be swiftly punished following another weekend of running street battles.

What began as a mass display of opposition to an extradition bill two months ago has morphed into a wider pro-democracy movement that has thrown down the most significant challenge to Beijing’s authority since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

While China has issued increasingly shrill condemnations of the protests in the last two weeks, it has largely left the city’s pro-Beijing administration to deal with the situation.

Protesters had braced for a potential backlash from Beijing after China’s top policy body on Hong Kong affairs called a rare press briefing.

But the cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office merely reiterated its condemnation of the protests and Beijing’s “strong” support for Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam and the city’s police force, which has been accused of using excessive force against protesters.

“No civilised society or rule of law society will tolerate rampant violence,” Yang Guang, spokesperson for the Hong Kong affairs office, told reporters.

Protesters gather in Wan Chai, Hong Kong

Protesters gather in Wan Chai, Hong Kong

Mr Yang said the violence, which he blamed on a “few radicals”, had seriously undermined Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, and “bumped into the bottom line” of the “one country, two systems” principle that governs the financial hub.

Another spokesperson, Xu Luying, added: “We also believe that Hong Kong’s top priority task right now is to punish violent and unlawful acts in accordance with the law, to restore social order as soon as possible, and to maintain a good business environment.”

Last week, the defence ministry pointed to a Hong Kong law under which the Chinese army could be deployed if city authorities requested support to maintain “public order”.

When asked under which pre-conditions the military could be deployed, Mr Yang referred to the city’s basic law, without elaborating.

In an editorial today, the state-run China Daily newspaper signalled Beijing’s growing concern.

“What is happening in Hong Kong is no longer the airing of real or imagined grievances,” the editorial said.

“It is of the same hue as the colour revolutions that were instigated in the Middle East and North Africa, local anti-government elements colluding with external forces to topple governments utilising modern communication technology to spread rumours, distrust and fear.”