Saturday 17 August 2019

No sign of any foreign influence in protests, say police

Beijing's claims contradicted

A woman is treated after police used tear gas during Wednesday’s protests. Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
A woman is treated after police used tear gas during Wednesday’s protests. Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu

Sophia Yan

Hong Kong's police force said yesterday that the mass protests that have besieged the city all summer showed no signs of foreign influence or interference, signalling a split between Beijing and the police.

The remarks from the police contradict Beijing's claims that unidentified foreign forces, deemed "black hands", are fomenting protests in the city that form the most serious political crisis since the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

"From the operational angle, I cannot see that at this stage," said a senior police official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, when asked if there were any signs of foreign funding or organising of the protests that have brought millions onto the streets.

This was in direct contrast to statements made by the Chinese government yesterday.

"Foreign forces must stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs," Liu Xiaoming, China's ambassador to the UK, said. "Stop conniving in violent offences."

For weeks, Beijing has denounced protesters as pawns of the West and plotting a "colour revolution" with external help - part of its propaganda campaign to discredit the movement while it issues ominous videos showing troops engaging in paramilitary exercises in a neighbouring city.

Satellite photos show what appear to be armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles belonging to China's paramilitary, the People's Armed Police, parked in a sports complex in Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong. It has been interpreted by some as a threat from Beijing to use increased force against protesters.

China's defence ministry has also pointed to a legal provision that would allow Hong Kong-based People's Liberation Army troops to be deployed for "public order maintenance" at the request of the city government.

The troops, called the Hong Kong Garrison, released a promotional video earlier this month that showed soldiers doing a "riot drill" in which they fired tear gas and water cannons at people who appeared to be protesters.

However, three senior Hong Kong police officers said they weren't aware of plans for Chinese forces to stop mass demonstrations in the city, and denied rumours that mainland police were already working in the territory.

However, they also said that they weren't sure if they would be informed ahead of time if mainland platoons were to be deployed in Hong Kong.

Experts say the Chinese government is working to prime public opinion for a potential crackdown, though such a move is still believed to be a last resort as it would confirm that Beijing had failed to win over the seven million inhabitants of Hong Kong, and would risk severely damaging the city's image as a global financial hub.

For now, the police have stressed that they are more than capable of handling the situation, and that stocks of crowd-control measures, such as tear gas canisters, are in plentiful supply. "At an operational level, we have considerable depth," said one of the senior police officers.

Hong Kong has 3,000 officers available to be deployed on any given day specifically to handle the protests - roughly 10pc of the entire police force - with hundreds of others in reserve.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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