The beatings of two men during a tense rally at Hong Kong’s airport highlights protesters’ growing fear of mainland intervention, as well as the risk that demonstrators’ violent tactics could undermine support for their movement.
An otherwise peaceful sit-in at Hong Kong International Airport turned ugly when protesters attacked and detained a man they suspected of being a security agent from the nearby mainland city of Shenzhen posing as a demonstrator. Such a deployment, if true, could represent a violation of the charter that guaranteed Hong Kong’s autonomous criminal justice system before its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
For hours, the attackers ignored pleas from fellow demonstrators and reporters to let the man be taken for medical attention — ostensibly so they could prove his identity — and put a sign on his chest saying “I am China’s police.”
The group subsequently restrained and struck a man later identified as a reporter for the Global Times, a newspaper published by China’s Communist Party, forcibly tying him to a luggage cart.
The episodes — broadcast on live television from one of Asia’s busiest airports — illustrated protesters’ increasing use of violence after weeks of facing off against tear gas, rubber bullets and undercover officers sent into rallies.
The police tactics have been repeatedly endorsed by the Chinese government and state-run media like the Global Times, whose editor-in-chief warned that the chances of intervention were rising while commenting on a video of paramilitary forces assembling in Shenzhen.
China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office issued a statement saying protesters at the airport “acted like terrorists” and it would support any local government effort to punish those responsible.
Hong Kong police subsequently said the crimes were serious, but didn’t amount to terrorism.
The incidents also drew criticism among the opposition: Calls for a code of conduct for front-line protesters, including no beating medical personnel or journalists, circulated on popular social media forums.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong issued a statement expressing “grave concern” about the beating of the Global Times reporter and urged restraint from protesters.
“Attacks on members of the media doing their job are unacceptable, regardless of the allegiance or views of the perpetrators,” the club said.
China refuses US warships HK port call amid tensions
China has refused port visits to Hong Kong by two US warships amid continued trade tensions and diplomatic spats between the two sides over pro-democracy protests in the Asian financial hub.
The Chinese government denied permission for the USS Green Bay and the USS Lake Erie to visit Hong Kong in the coming weeks, Commander Nate Christensen, a deputy spokesman for the US Pacific Fleet, said.
The Green Bay is an amphibious transport dock while the Lake Erie is guided-missile cruiser.
“The US Navy has a long track record of successful port visits to Hong Kong, and we expect them to continue,” Christensen said.