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Hong Kong protests: China says its military will defend every part of its territory

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China's People's Liberation Army is a strong force and will defend every part of its territory, a spokesman for China's Hong Kong affairs office in Beijing said, when asked about possible use of Chinese troops in the Asian financial hub riven by protests.

[BEIJING] China's People's Liberation Army is a strong force and will defend every part of its territory, a spokesman for China's Hong Kong affairs office in Beijing said, when asked about possible use of Chinese troops in the Asian financial hub riven by protests.

Yang Guang, spokesman for China's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, told a briefing in Beijing that Hong Kong authorities were capable of bringing under control the situation there. 

China is urging Hong Kong citizens to stand up to protesters challenging the government, after a general strike that led to a day of traffic chaos, mob violence, tear gas and flight cancellations.

In some of the Chinese government’s strongest comments yet on the unrest gripping the Asian financial hub, officials from the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office reiterated support for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and said efforts to force her resignation would fail.

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Mr Yang defended the police response and called on residents to “stand firm and guard our beautiful homeland,” citing a few examples of local people criticizing protesters.

“We would like to make it clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them: Those who play with fire will perish by it,” he said.

Tuesday’s news conference was the second Beijing press event on Hong Kong since an unprecedented briefing last week. Earlier, a front-page commentary carried on the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, said the central government “resolutely” supports Lam as the city’s leader and wouldn’t tolerate violent protests.

The protest movement that began in June to oppose a bill that would’ve allowed extraditions to the mainland has morphed into a broader challenge to China. Ms Lam has failed to stem the momentum of protesters who are demanding that she withdraw the bill completely and step down from her position.

The Tuesday commute seemed back to normal after Monday morning demonstrations left rush hour traffic snarled, subway lines inoperable and airport operations disrupted. Cathay Pacific Airways said it canceled more than 140 flights coming to and from the city, while Hong Kong Airlines scrapped 30 flights.

Thousands of black-shirted protesters rallied later Monday in various locations across the city, chanting “strike!” and blocking roads. Police fired tear gas to disperse crowds, while mob violence broke out in some areas between residents and protesters. The government condemned demonstrators for attacking at least two police stations and setting fire to various objects.

“We have seen some behaviour from protesters that is challenging ‘one country, two systems’ and threatening national sovereignty,” Ms Lam told reporters on Monday, flanked by senior members of her administration. “And I could even dare to say some are trying to ruin Hong Kong and completely destroy the livelihood of seven million citizens.”

The MSCI Hong Kong Index slumped as much as 3.2 per cent on Tuesday in a 10th day of declines, the longest since July 1984, five months before China and the U.K signed their agreement on Hong Kong’s return in 1997.

The unrest has hit the city’s economy, denting tourism and retail sales to worsen the pain from the US-China trade war. The IHS Markit PMI for Hong Kong sank to 43.8 in July from 47.9 a month earlier. That’s its lowest reading since March 2009, when the fallout from the global financial crisis was still raging. Financial Secretary Paul Chan warned Monday that the city risks a recession as protests continue.

Ms Lam on Monday didn’t make any new concessions to protesters, saying she didn’t think her resignation - one of their key demands - would provide a resolution to the unrest. She also called them a threat to national security, hours after they interrupted service on nearly all of the city’s metro lines - though it resumed by early afternoon.

“Such extensive disruptions in the name of certain demands or uncooperative movement have seriously undermined Hong Kong’s law and order and are pushing our city -- the city we all love, and many of us helped to build - to the verge of a very dangerous situation,” she said.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG