by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: League of Social Democrats/Facebook

CHINA’S HONG KONG and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) held a press conference this afternoon in response to the general strike held yesterday in Hong Kong. This was the second press conference held by the HKMAO on the situation in Hong Kong. The first press conference by the HKMAO on the present events was held on July 30th, as the historic first press conference of its kind since the 1997 Handover.

Despite it being claimed that the press conference would offer “something new,” the HKMAO primarily reiterated previous talking points. HKMAO spokesperson Yang Guang stated that the Chinese government will continue to support the administration of Carrie Lam, and condemned protesters for what he claimed were violent acts disruptive of “One Country, Two Systems”, and seeking to push Hong Kong toward a revolution.

Live stream of the press conference. Film credit: SCMP

Yang stated that the government will eventually punish those involved in organizing present protests and called on Hong Kong residents to resist violent demonstrators and to protect their homeland. Yang did not, however, refer to attacks on demonstrators by individuals thought to be triad members yesterday and on July 28th in any way.

In the Q-and-A, Yang also intimated that foreign forces were involved in stirring up the present set of protests, pointing specifically to America and Taiwan, and criticized the notion of demonstrators in Hong Kong organizing a general strike entirely as overly disruptive to the everyday life of city residents. The latter is an ironic statement, given that the official history of the Chinese Communist Party enshrines general strikes organized by the party in China.

Yang avoided questions regarding whether military intervention by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is a possible response to the current protests when journalists cited police exercises involving 12,000 individuals that took place in the past few days in Shenzhen, last week’s drill by 190,000 police officers in Guangdong, or comments by the head of the PLA garrison in Hong Kong suggesting the possible use of force last week. Yang claimed that the PLA was a powerful but “civilized” force, and avoided discussion of what conditions could lead to PLA deployment in Hong Kong, even when journalists circled around to this question several times.

With few new developments, then, the HKMAO press conference can be compared to the numerous press conferences held by the Hong Kong government in which the government offered nothing new except to condemn protestors and reiterate a commitment to its previous stances. There is some humor in that the Hong Kong government and, in particular, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, have become criticized for so frequently holding such press conferences that the HKMAO sought to claim that this afternoon’s press conference would lead to new announcements being made—yet this later proved to be a false claim.

The stance of the HKMAO does not seem to indicate plans by the Chinese government to escalate its response to the present protests through the increasingly discussed possibility of PLA deployment. That being said, the HKMAO has been contradicted by the Chinese Ministry of Defense, which previously stated that the PLA could be deployed in Hong Kong if requested to by the Hong Kong government, and, again, by the PLA garrison in Hong Kong itself. It is anyone’s guess as to which set of comments should be seen as taking precedence. The Chinese government is likely hoping to sow fear and confusion through the employment of deliberate ambiguity on the matter.

As triad members came out in force to attack protestors for the second time during the many weeks of protest yesterday, one imagines that mobilizing triad members to attack demonstrators may become increasingly common as protests continue to drag on. This would be one means of escalation by the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.

Likewise, with police drills in Guangdong involving 190,000 last week and this week’s drills involving 12,000 police officers in Shenzhen, it seems increasingly likely that the deploying Chinese police units such as the People’s Armed Police in Hong Kong could be another intermediate stage of escalation that would still fall short of deploying the PLA in Hong Kong. It was officially claimed that both sets of drills were held to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, but if so, it is unusual for such drills to take place so far from Beijing and to instead take place in Guangdong province, which neighbors Hong Kong.

Video showing police drills in Shenzhen involving countering individuals resembling demonstrators in Hong Kong. Film credit: Global Times

Notably, in the drills held in Shenzhen this week, Chinese police officers practiced firing tear gas against individuals dressed in black, wearing hard hats, and mask—an obvious attempt to intimidate that they are training to put down protests in Hong Kong, seeing as this is how demonstrators dress in order to avoid being identified by police and being affected by tear gas.

Rumors also circulate that Chinese police forces could already be mixing in with Hong Kong police. Video from demonstrations last night purports to show police officers speaking in Mandarin and referring to each other by Mandarin phrases, which would be highly unusual if they were Hong Kongers.

Much uncertainty persists regarding the future of protests going forward, then. In response to the press conference today, as well as the announcement that the Hong Kong police will hold press conferences daily going forward, demonstrators also held a press conference this morning, as announced and organized on the online forum LIHKG. At the press conference, spokespersons were all anonymous. This may indicate a more pro-active media strategy from demonstrators going forward.

But one generally expects protests to continue, with no solution in sight from the Hong Kong government, and the government continuing to refuse to compromise.

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