China forces conduct drills near Hong Kong
Chinese paramilitary forces conducted exercises across the border from Hong Kong on Thursday, raising fears that Beijing may be preparing to act against mass demonstrations in the Asian financial hub it has described as “near terrorism”.
Hundreds of members of the People’s Armed Police could be seen at a Shenzhen sports stadium where parking lots were filled by more than 100 dark-painted paramilitary vehicles, prompting US concerns they could be used to break up protests across the border in Hong Kong.
China reiterated on Wednesday that Hong Kong’s protests were “near terrorism” as more street clashes followed ugly and chaotic scenes at the airport two days ago, when protesters set upon two men they suspected of being government sympathisers.
Seventeen people were arrested on Wednesday, bringing the total number detained since June to 748, police told a news conference, adding that police stations have been surrounded and attacked 76 times during the crisis.
Police tactics are toughening after 10 weeks of increasingly violent confrontations between police and protesters have plunged Hong Kong into its worst crisis since it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
The protests represent one of the biggest populist challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012 and show no immediate signs of abating.
US President Donald Trump tied a US-China trade deal to Beijing resolving the unrest “humanely”, and suggested he was willing to meet Xi to discuss the crisis.
“I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi (Jinping) wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it. Personal meeting?” Trump said on Twitter.
The US state department said it was deeply concerned over reports that Chinese police forces were gathering near the border with Hong Kong and urged the city’s government to respect freedom of speech.
The department also issued a travel advisory urging US citizens to exercise caution when visiting Hong Kong. China has frequently warned against what it regards as outside interference in an internal issue.
Other foreign governments have urged calm. France called on Hong Kong officials to renew talks with protesters, while Canada said China should handle the protests with tact.
The latest protests have far exceeded the scope of those during the pro-democracy “Occupy” movement that brought parts of the city to a standstill over three months in 2014.
A leader of those protests, law professor Benny Tai, was granted bail on Thursday after being jailed for two months for public nuisance offences relating to the 2014 demonstrations.
Tai said he was very touched by the sacrifices people had made to defend the city's core values. “The golden era of Hong Kong is yet to come, and I believe the time is not too far away,” said Tai, whose appeal remains pending.
Hong Kong’s airport resumed normal operations on Thursday after activists forced the cancellation of nearly 1,000 flights this week, the airport authority said,
but security remained tight. Reuters