In what appears to be a first since Hong Kong was handed back to China by the UK in 1997, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, a mainland authority that oversees the two Chinese territories, held a press conference on Monday where they reiterated that the violent protests that continued through Sunday wouldn’t be tolerated by Beijing’s government, BBG reports.
The HKMAO, which answers directly to China’s cabinet, reaffirmed its support for the city’s government and police during what was a rare press briefing on Monday. After the briefing, the heads of the authority brusquely left the room, ignoring questions shouted by journalists.
Office spokesman Yang Guang said Beijing remained committed to “one country, two systems,” the separation of powers that has led to joint governance of Hong Kong since 1997. Yang added that the violence and unrest that have rocked Hong Kong over the past eight weeks “has gone far beyond the scope of peaceful march and demonstration, undermined Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, and touched on the bottom line of the principle of ‘one country, two systems’,” Yang said.
“No civilized society under the rule of law would ever allow acts of violence to take place.”
According to the SCMP, Yang said the CPC has three ‘hopes’ for Hong Kong: That segments of the population start opposing violence, that various sectors firmly protect the rule of law, and that society can “get out of political conflict as soon as possible.”
What started as a protest movement to kill the hated Hong Kong extradition bill, which would have given the city-state’s government the power to extradite anybody to the mainland to face punishment for alleged crimes. Opponents saw the bill, which was being fast-tracked by the authority, would have allowed Beijing to arrest dissidents traveling through Hong Kong. Earlier this month, City Executive Carrie Lam tabled the withdrawal bill, but refused to take the additional step that would have taken it off the legislative agenda. With the possibility that Lam could back track as soon as protests calmed down, more Hong Kongers took to the streets to demand that Lam, who was selected by Beijing to lead Hong Kong’s government, resign, and that she take the additional steps to kill the legislation for the current cycle.
But the HKMAO reiterated that the protests have devolved into “evil and criminal acts” committed by “radical elements.”
“We call on the general public of Hong Kong to be aware of the grave nature of the current situation and to jointly condemn the evil and criminal acts committed by the radical elements and prevent them from causing trouble to Hong Kong,” Yang said.
Meanwhile, the HKMAO representatives acknowledged that Hong Kong must do a better job to “solve the grievances” of the young, and “push for economic development and solve grievances of youngsters on quality of life and career prospects.”
Hong Kong markets responded well to the press conference, with stocks paring declines after the briefing. MSCI was off 1.7% in recent trade, after falling as much as 2.2% earlier.
“This morning there was concern among investors that the central government could express a tougher stance,” said Steven Leung, executive director at Uob Kay Hian. But now that the HKMAO has struck a more moderate tone that could be described as “tough but firm,” some of those worries have dissipated.
Still, the threat that Beijing could mobilize the garrison of People’s Liberation Army troops stationed in Hong Kong continued to hang over markets.