BEIJNG: Beijing has pledged its support for Hong Kong’s embattled leader CY Leung and warned that ongoing pro-democracy protests could push the city into “chaos,” state media said on Thursday.
“The Central government will continue to firmly and unshakably support legal measures and policies taken by administration leader CY Leung and the police of the special territory in handling these illegal protests according to the law,” a front-page editorial said.
The piece in the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily also warned that “if matters are not dealt [with]according to the law, Hong Kong society will fall into chaos.”
It described the protesters—who are calling for unrestricted democracy and for Leung to resign—as “selfishly” disrupting social order in a way that “harms social stability and economic prosperity of Hong Kong.”
Since the street protests escalated on Sunday, Beijing has given its full backing to the city’s authorities and voiced opposition to what it terms “illegal acts.”
On Wednesday in Washington, Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned against outside interference, saying “Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs.”
“I believe for any country, for any society, no one would allow those illegal acts that violate public order,” he said.
Beijing has heavily censored all information in China related to the Hong Kong protests, which have brought thousands of people onto the streets.
This week authorities detained more than a dozen activists across China and questioned as many as 60 others who have expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, according to the advocacy groups China Human Rights Defenders and Amnesty International.
“The rounding up of activists in mainland China only underlines why so many people in Hong Kong fear the growing control Beijing has in their city’s affairs,” Amnesty’s China researcher William Nee said in a statement in response to the clampdown.
China under pressure
Some analysts say it is unlikely that Leung will step down, in what would be a massive loss of face for the establishment.
“If Beijing forces him to resign, they will be seen to be buckling under pressure from the protesters. They might give out signals that he has been sidelined, but the likelihood of his immediate dismissal is not very high,” said Willy Lam, a China scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
However, Lam added that the longer the protests affect Hong Kong, the more pressure Chinese president Xi Jinping will be under pressure to act.
“If he is seen as failing to control a state of anarchy for more than two or three weeks he will be exposed to criticism [from within the Communist Party]and in that case sacking C.Y. becomes a possibility,” he said.
The protesters are furious at the central government’s refusal to allow free elections for the city’s next leader in 2017. Beijing has said only two or three candidates vetted by a loyalist committee will be permitted to stand.
Protesters have labeled the proposal “fake democracy” and have demanded Leung step down and Beijing reverse its decision.
In a movement being dubbed the “umbrella revolution”—a nod to the umbrellas they have used to protect themselves against pepper spray, the sun and torrential downpours alike—the protesters have brought key parts of the city to a standstill, heavily disrupting the transport network and shutting down businesses.
Since police tear-gassed protesters on Sunday, calls for Leung to step down have intensified.
“We are hoping that they will find someone else who has a better ability to push through real democratic elections and help Hong Kong take the next step in its democratic development,” said Vincent Lam, 19, who works as a sound engineer.
Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, told BBC radio the entire situation had been “very, very badly mishandled,” calling on authorities to enter into consultation with demonstrators.
The protests pose a huge political challenge for Beijing at a time when the Communist Party is cracking down hard on dissent on the mainland.
Authorities have scrubbed mentions of the protests from Chinese social media, while rights groups say more than a dozen activists have been detained and as many as 60 others questioned for expressing support for the Hong Kong crowds.
In a sign of Beijing’s growing unease, a local tourism leader said Chinese travel agents were reporting that group visits to the city had been suspended.
October 1 to 7 is known as “Golden Week” in China, a key shopping holiday that usually sees many travel to Hong Kong.