SHANGHAI/HONG, KONG – China’s central government won’t sit by and let the disruption in Hong Kong go on, according a commentary by the Xinhua News Agency, which condemned the violence that has racked the financial hub for weeks and took aim at protesters whom it said tossed a Chinese national flag into the harbor.
“We must warn all the ugly forces that try to challenge the central authority and undermine the bottom line of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle,” the news agency said Sunday. It added: “The central government will not sit idly by and let this situation continue,” while reiterating that it is sticking to the “one country, two systems” regime. Under the terms of the 1997 handover deal with Britain, Hong Kong has rights and liberties unseen on the Chinese mainland, including an independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say those rights are being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Public anger has been compounded by rising inequality and the perception that the city’s distinct language and culture are being threatened by ever-closer integration with the Chinese mainland.
The unrest is Hong Kong is growing, with fresh violence over the weekend amid four days of planned rallies.
Two simultaneous marches planned for Sunday afternoon as well as a city-wide strike on Monday made further clashes all but inevitable. About 450 employees from both Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. and Hong Kong Airlines Ltd. said they will take part in Monday’s strike, Apple Daily reported Saturday, citing unidentified people.
Police used tear gas in parts of the Kowloon district Saturday night to try to disperse crowds and re-open blocked roads.
Police said Sunday they had arrested more than 20 people for unlawful assembly, assault and other offenses Saturday night, including for hurling gasoline bombs, bricks, glass bottles and other objects at officers and refusing to disperse to the officially approved location. Some protesters scaled a flagpole, removed the Chinese flag and flung it into the iconic Victoria Harbour.
The first of Sunday’s two planned protests kicked off from a public park just hours after the police announcement.
Light rain fell on the demonstrators, who had umbrellas at the ready. Since the Occupy Central protests in 2014, umbrellas have been a prime symbol of the city’s pro-democracy movements.
The Hong Kong government said the protests go “way beyond the boundary of freedom of expression in a civilized society,” adding that some protesters are suspected to have deliberately damaged the national flag.
The flag is a symbol of the country, so the act was a public trampling on the country’s dignity and an insult to all Chinese nationals, including Hong Kong residents, Xinhua said. Maintaining the dignity of the flag is to safeguard the dignity of the country, the nation and the entire Chinese people, it said.