China says Hong Kong violence 'totally intolerable'

UK warns China of serious consequences if it breaches agreement on freedoms in city

The Chinese government has issued a strong condemnation of protesters who stormed and vandalised Hong Kong’s legislature, calling the act “totally intolerable”, as the UK warned China of serious consequences if it breached an agreement guaranteeing freedoms in the city.

In a statement carried by the state-run Xinhua news agency, the Chinese government’s top representative organisation in Hong Kong said it was “shocked, indignant and strongly condemned” the vandalising of the parliament building, which followed a day of protests on Monday against an extradition bill.

The events pose an unprecedented challenge to the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, and Beijing asked Hong Kong to investigate the “criminal responsibility of violent offenders” for “serious illegal actions”. Protesters could face up to 10 years in prison if prosecuted and convicted for rioting.

“Some extreme elements used excessive violence to storm the legislature building and carried out a series of large-scale assaults. This is shocking, heartbreaking and angering,” the statement said. “Their violent acts are an extreme challenge to Hong Kong’s rule of law and seriously undermined Hong Kong’s peace and stability. It is totally intolerable.”

The Hong Kong and Macau affairs office of China’s state council issued a similarly worded statement of condemnation, vowing to support the Hong Kong authorities in investigating the “violent offenders’ criminal responsibility”.

It said 1 July, the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover of sovereignty from British to Chinese rule, should have been a “joyous day” but “extreme radicals” had instead stormed the legislature.

Under the terms of the 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule, Hong Kong enjoys rights and liberties unseen on the mainland. But protesters accuse Beijing of reneging on that deal, and anger over a proposed bill to allow extradition to the opaque mainland Chinese court system has turned into wider protests against the government.

The UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, warned against using the vandalism of the legislature as a pretext to attack the city’s freedoms. “The UK signed an internationally binding legal agreement in 1984 that enshrines the one country, two systems rule, [and] enshrines the basic freedoms of the people of Hong Kong,” he said.

“We stand four square behind that agreement, four square behind the people of Hong Kong. There will be serious consequences if that internationally binding legal agreement were not to be honoured.” Hunt did not specify what those consequences would be.

Separately, the UK said there were no existing export licences to sell tear gas or other crowd control equipment to the Hong Kong police. Rubber bursting tear gas grenades that were manufactured in Derby by British company Chemring, have been discovered by protestors, apparently from existing stockpiles.

The last UK licence - for law enforcement training purposes - was worth £110,726 and granted in July 2018 at around the time a previous licence with an unlimited value from July 2015 had expired. Arms trade campaigners in the UK had been concerned the second tear gas licence was still valid despite Hunt’s statement two weeks ago would suspend future sales of CS grenades.

Hong Kong police had fired teargas early on Tuesday to disperse hundreds of defiant protesters who had occupied the legislature. As smoke filled the air, hundreds of protesters wearing hard hats, goggles and masks ran away, clutching umbrellas to protect themselves against the chemicals and also to shield themselves from security cameras.

At least 54 people were taken to hospital after the protests, according to the Hong Kong hospital authority.

In a pre-dawn press conference, Carrie Lam, the city’s Beijing-appointed chief executive, described the scenes of vandalism as “heartbreaking and shocking”. She said: “This is something we should seriously condemn because nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong.”

The president of the legislative council said repairs to the “extensively damaged” complex were expected to take a long time.

In a break with their silence over the pro-democracy demonstrations in recent weeks, Chinese state media ran footage on Tuesday of police in Hong Kong clearing protesters from streets and moving into roads surrounding the legislative council.

The Global Times, a Communist party mouthpiece, called for “zero tolerance” of the incident. “Out of blind arrogance and rage, protesters showed a complete disregard for law and order,” said both the Chinese and English versions of its editorial on Tuesday.

“Chinese society is all too aware that a zero-tolerance policy is the only remedy for such destructive behaviour witnessed. Otherwise, and without this policy, it would be similar to opening a Pandora’s Box,” it said.

The state-run China Daily paper published a celebratory news report about the anniversary of the handover. “A festive atmosphere enveloped Hong Kong on Monday as people from different backgrounds joined various activities to celebrate the anniversary,” the newspaper said.

The article mentioned the protests only in its final paragraphs. “Also on Monday, a large number of protesters took to the streets to march against the government’s suspended extradition amendment bill. Some clashed with police as they stormed into the legislative council,” it said.

An editorial reiterated the principle of one country, two systems, saying the former British colony was an “inalienable” part of China and that Hong Kong affairs concerned only China. “The only way for the special administrative region to sustain economic growth and maintain stability is for it to further integrate its own development into the nation’s overall development,” the newspaper said.

Support for the protests came from Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province. Its president, Tsai Ing-wen, urged the Hong Kong authorities to listen to the protests. “As president of a country that walked the long road to democracy, I urge the Hong Kong government to address the legitimate concerns of the people and their pursuit of freedom & democracy,” she tweeted.

Additional reporting by Christy Choi in Hong Kong

Guardian reporter in Hong Kong

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Hong Kong protests: envoy says China has 'power to quell unrest'
China’s ambassador to UK also accuses British politicians of ‘colonial mindset’

Peter Beaumont

15, Aug, 2019 @2:17 PM

Article image
UK has too much at stake to confront China over Hong Kong
Former colonial power can seek to change China’s mind but is wary of enlisting in a trade war

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

22, May, 2020 @2:42 PM

Article image
China bans news coverage of Hong Kong bookseller abduction
Censors order removal of editorial and ‘related reports’ amid uproar over Lam Wing-kee’s account of his disappearance

Stuart Leavenworth in Beijing

18, Jun, 2016 @5:02 AM

Article image
China's extradition law should respect Hong Kong deal, says May
PM voices concern as ministers say proposed changes may breach freedoms agreed in 1997

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

12, Jun, 2019 @1:05 PM

Article image
How China changed Hong Kong: views from the city
As the 20th anniversary of the handover from the UK to China is marked, the Guardian talks to residents and officials about the shifts since 1997

Benjamin Haas

28, Jun, 2017 @4:00 AM

Article image
Hong Kong democracy campaigners jailed over anti-China protests
Alex Chow, Nathan Law, and Joshua Wong given six to eight month sentences for roles in anti-government occupation known as the umbrella movement

Tom Phillips in Beijing

17, Aug, 2017 @8:27 AM

Article image
Carrie Lam says she will 'tackle violence head on' as recession hits Hong Kong
Chief executive denies Beijing is planning to replace her and says she will ‘handle the situation’

Lily Kuo in Beijing

29, Oct, 2019 @4:07 AM

Article image
Hong Kong bans pro-independence party as China tightens grip
Hong Kong National Party banned in the interests of ‘national safety’

Lily Kuo

24, Sep, 2018 @3:28 AM

Article image
Rebel Hong Kong politicians defy China at chaotic swearing-in ceremony
Pro-democracy politicians cross fingers and make protest signs and subversive references to Beijing’s authoritarian rulers

Tom Phillips in Beijing

12, Oct, 2016 @7:03 AM

Article image
Last chapter for Hong Kong bookshop selling titles banned in China
Activists believe pressure from the government, which is aligned with Beijing, has forced People’s Bookshop to shut

Carlotta Dotto in Hong Kong

31, Oct, 2018 @2:28 AM