Beijing on Monday called on authorities in Hong Kong to take rapid steps to punish anyone who has broken its laws following weeks of angry protests over plans to allow extradition to mainland China.
"We ... 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," Xu Luying, spokeswoman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO) under China's cabinet, the State Council, told a news conference in the city on Monday.
"No civilized society or rule of law society will tolerate rampant violence," HKMAO spokesman Yang Guang said, blaming recent clashes between protesters and riot police on "a few radicals."
He said the ruling Chinese Communist Party wouldn't tolerate any actions that threatened China's sovereignty, including "foreign forces" who tried to use Hong Kong as a way to interfere in China's internal affairs.
Protests that began on June 6 as a mass display of popular anger over amendments to the city's Fugitive Offenders Ordinance have broadened to include demands for fully democratic elections and widespread public opposition to the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam and the city's police force.
Public opinion polls have shown widespread support for more radical forms of protest, which have included breaking into the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) and vandalism targeting China's Central Liaison Office and the police headquarters building in Wanchai.
Thousands of protesters converged on the New Territories town of Yuen Long at the weekend, in an outpouring of public anger over triad-linked attacks on passengers at Yuen Long's MTR station a week earlier, prompting long-running clashes with police that continued through Saturday and Sunday in various locations, leaving the streets clouded with tear gas and dozens of people in hospital.
Police said 49 "radical protesters" were arrested for a variety of offenses on Sunday, accusing protesters of hurling bricks, bottles, paint bombs, of corrosive liquids, and of using crossbows and bows and arrows.
Yang said Lam and the Hong Kong police had Beijing's full support.
“The rule of law is what Hongkongers are proud of," he said. "Violence is violence; unlawful acts are unlawful. It doesn’t change, no matter what the target is. The central government supports the relevant departments and police to protect the rule of law."
"Hong Kong police in the past month have been under a lot of pressure," he said, accusing Western politicians of making "irresponsible remarks" and making the situation worse.
But he declined to comment on whether Beijing would order its People's Liberation Army (PLA) garrison to intervene in Hong Kong, referring only to the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which allows for that possibility if the request is made by the Hong Kong government.
A harsher tone
State-run Chinese media took a harsher tone on Monday, with an editorial in the English-language China Daily warning that the Hong Kong protests were being orchestrated by overseas forces.
"What is happening in Hong Kong is no longer the airing of real or imagined grievances," the paper said.
"It is of the same hue as the color revolutions that were instigated in the Middle East and North Africa - local anti-government elements colluding with external forces to topple governments utilizing modern communication technology to spread rumors, distrust, and fear."
"Judging from the preparation, targeting strategies, riot tactics, and abundance of supplies, it takes naivety akin to simplemindedness to truly believe these activities are not being carefully orchestrated," it said.
Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said Beijing's approach means that a political solution to the current crisis is unlikely to be forthcoming.
"It means that the HKMAO is hoping that the Hong Kong government will keep going the way it is now, and use the police as a tool to suppress public anger and grievances," Wu said.
"I am very worried that the violence will continue to escalate, to the point where the central government sends in the PLA as a final solution, which would utterly wipe out 'one country, two systems'," he said, in a reference to the framework agreed before the 1997 handover of the city, under which its traditional freedoms and separate legal jurisdiction were to be preserved for 50 years.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Gary Fan said the HKMAO was simply compounding the errors made by Lam's administration.
"The HKMAO ignores the five very clear demands made by the people of Hong Kong, and instead makes a bunch of self-contradictory comments, blindly supporting Lam's administration," Fan said.
"They talk about Hong Kong moving on from political conflict and protecting the rule of law, but everyone knows that it's them who are the main instigators of this massive political crisis we have in Hong Kong right now," he said.
Civil servants rally planned
Meanwhile, hundreds of civil servants said they would hold a rally in the central business district on Friday to communicate the depth of public opposition to Lam's administration.
Rally organizer Ngan Mo-chow, a civil servant at Hong Kong's Labour Department, said the rally was a spontaneous civil action, and didn't represent the opinion of any organization or department of the government.
"We invite the Chief Executive and the Director to attend an open dialogue to discuss the issues with members of the public and colleagues in a public forum," Ngan said.
"We reiterate here that we will once again urge the Government to respond positively to the five major demands of the people of Hong Kong," he said, adding that the rally wasn't connected to any plan to strike.
And a group of press officers from the government's information service issued an open letter hitting out at the government Press Office for using biased language in official press releases that described protesters as radical and violent, while describing the white-shirted triad-linked attackers of July 21 with more neutral language.
Civil service union leader Leung Chau-ting said many members had contacted the union requesting strike action to show opposition to the government.
"There is definitely resentment," Leung told RFA. "But we must maintain political neutrality ... If you do anything, you ... must always remember your status as a civil servant."
He said anyone participating in political protests could face disciplinary action from their departments, as well as risking criminal prosecution through the courts.
Growing frequency, intensity
Chung Kim-wah, assistant professor of social policy at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said the police were using the same tactics to deal with an ever-increasing frequency and intensity of public protest.
"There is a problem with the police's handling of the situation," Chung said. "More and more civil servants are expressing their dissatisfaction online."
"The main point of this isn't the rally on Friday: it's that there is growing anger at the government among civil servants, and across all departments," he said. "
That's the thing that should elicit concern."
Reported by Tam Siu-yin and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng and Lu Xi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.