Thursday 19 September 2019

China warns of military rule if Hong Kong protests go on

A plane flies over anti-extradition bill protesters as they demonstrate outside the airport in Hong Kong. Photo: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
A plane flies over anti-extradition bill protesters as they demonstrate outside the airport in Hong Kong. Photo: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Anna Kam

China refused to rule out military intervention in Hong Kong yesterday and said it could unilaterally declare a state of emergency rule, in its sternest warning since pro- democracy protests began 13 weeks ago.

The government's top office overseeing Hong Kong threatened to apply national Chinese laws in the semi-autonomous territory and call on the military should the protests continue to escalate.

Xu Luying, the spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macau Central Office - which reports directly to China's cabinet - cited Article 18 of Hong Kong law, which permits the central government to take control in the event that a crisis spirals beyond the local authority.

"Hong Kong's basic law allows for them to request help or for the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to declare a state of emergency," she said.

The ominous comments mark the first time Beijing has floated intervening in Hong Kong without the explicit request of the city's leaders, raising doubts about their autonomy.

More than 1,100 protesters have been arrested as demonstrations paralysed the city. Their demands have grown from the scrapping of a bill allowing extradition to mainland China to include universal suffrage, an investigation into police brutality and the resignation of the city's chief executive.

Over the weekend, protesters set up barricades on the route to the airport, while on Monday thousands of students boycotted school, marching under banners reading "Boycott for freedom" and "Save Hong Kong".

Ms Xu warned: "If the situation continues to worsen, and it becomes turmoil that cannot be controlled by the SAR government and endangers the country's sovereignty and security, the central government will not sit idly by."

By imposing a state of emergency, Beijing could carry out mass arrests, censorship, deportations and transport shutdowns.

On Monday, Matthew Cheung, Hong Kong's deputy leader, did not rule out invoking the colonial-era emergency powers ordinance - a city law that could be invoked without Beijing's official approval by chief executive Carrie Lam.

Ms Xu also claimed China could deploy its military in without breaching the Sino-British agreement that gives unique freedoms for 50 years after the 1997 handover.

"It's a wrong notion that the deployment of the People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong would be the end of 'one country, two systems'," Ms Xu said at the briefing in Beijing.

Chinese officials made clear they were ready to seize emergency powers with a list of reforms. Some suggested outlawing the face masks protesters have worn to avoid recognition by the authorities, as well as punishing teachers who commit the "heinous crime" of encouraging students to take part in rallies.

China's intervention came as Ms Lam maintained she could handle the unrest and knocked back a leaked recording in which she said she "would resign" if she could.

Irish Independent

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