Following a renewed surge in protest unrest and violence in the wake of the controversial mask ban which went into effect on Saturday, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has for the first time issued public warning that the Chinese military could step in, saying this drastic step would only happen if it "becomes so bad".
Expressing hope it won't come to that, and that the situation will resolve itself under local authorities, she noted that the four month-long raging protests were no longer "a peaceful movement for democracy" and urged outside critics to understand this.
"I still strongly feel that we should find the solutions ourselves. That is also the position of the central government, that Hong Kong should tackle the problem on her own, but if the situation becomes so bad, then no options could be ruled out if we want Hong Kong to at least have another chance," Lam said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Over the past month especially, demonstrations have increasingly involved a smaller but more hardline crowd of mostly face-masked youth relying on extreme tactics such as hurling molotov cocktails at police, and setting stores and infrastructure on fire, along with increased vandalism.
The anti-Beijingers have attempted to bring the city to a complete halt, using various tactics such as erecting barriers on busy roadways, occupying the international airport, and vandalizing train stations including attempting to disable trains. The protests seem to have entered a new, more dangerous phase, which further suggests the Chinese military could be inching closer to direct intervention.
From Friday night to Saturday, violence spread in #HongKong, the way rioters attacked was shocking, causing unprecedented damage. They even attacked the city’s train system, including the cars and railway: #CarrieLam #香港 pic.twitter.com/teFjzpITs5— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) October 5, 2019
Chinese state media as it continues highlighting the dangerous vandalism, including an alleged attack on a cross-border train into China, seems to be making a case that only direct mainland intervention can remedy the situation and restore order.
Over the weekend the city's MTR train network had to be closed for two days. As the AP reports, this was over fears of wide scale attacks and disablement of the public transit system which carries some 5 million passengers daily:
Videos on local media showed masked protesters smashing windows of a train heading to mainland China late Monday as passengers screamed — the first time a train carriage was attacked. Protesters also threw objects on the track as the train pulled away. An MTR spokesman, who identified himself only as Terry, confirmed the incident and said some cross-border services were suspended Tuesday.
Both police and random passersby suspected of harboring pro-mainland views have also been subject of attack by mobs of masked protesters. Police regional chief Kwok Yam-yung has slammed "Ruthless and reckless acts are pushing the rule of law to the brink of total collapse," after in only four days he indicated 241 people were detained due to what he dubbed widespread "atrocities".
Only days in effect, the mask ban has resulted in 77 arrests, with 16 of those cases already prosecuted — a violation which can receive up to a year in jail and a fine, according to police numbers cited by the AP. Technically a formal charge of rioting, though perhaps harder to prove, can bring a penalty of up to ten years.
According to Hong Kong police figures, a total of 2,363 people have been arrested, and among those more than 200 have been charged with rioting.
Pro-Beijing social media has further begun to accuse to the HK protesters of beginning to deploy roadside bombs, upping their usual petrol bombs into something more deadly.
That’s not the sound of an explosion; it’s the sound of freedom. 🙄🙄 Maybe the first casualty would be a firefighter that gets killed by a roadside bomb, in Hong Kong pic.twitter.com/HvNG0YYW9k— LFC (@goldencaskcap) October 7, 2019
Given there's no sign the ferocity of the unrest will stall or lessen, and given Carrie Lam's first formal warning of the mainland's People's Liberation Army intervention, it appears Hong Kong authorities are prepping for a worst case scenario, which Beijing will only be too happy to oblige.