Hong Kong is facing its worst crisis since the 1997 handover, the head of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said on Wednesday, Reuters reports.
The city has faced months of sometimes violent protests that began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition law but have evolved into a direct challenge to the government of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
“Hong Kong’s crisis … has continued for 60 days, and is getting worse and worse,” Zhang Xiaoming, one of the most senior Chinese officials overseeing Hong Kong affairs, said during a meeting in Shenzhen.
“Violent activities are intensifying and the impact on society is spreading wider. It can be said that Hong Kong is now facing the most severe situation since its handover,” he said.
Zhang was holding a forum that included Hong Kong delegates to the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top political advisory body. No opposition democratic figures or protest representatives attended.
He said the central government is highly concerned about the current situation in the territory. “We are engaged in a high-level, strategic and comprehensive study of the situation to come to a determination,” he added.
The protests, fueled by many residents’ fears of eroding freedoms under the tightening Communist Party control, now pose the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012.
Hong Kong lawyers dressed in black marched in silence later on Wednesday to call on the government to safeguard the independence of the city’s justice department.
Protesters also planned to surround the Revenue Tower in Wan Chai on Wednesday. Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in Sham Shui Po, one of the city’s poorest districts, late on Tuesday.
The city’s lawyers fear the justice department’s prosecutions of arrested protesters are taking on an increasingly political slant after 44 protesters were charged with rioting, an offense that carries a 10-year jail term.
A group of unidentified government prosecutors published an open letter last week accusing Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah of putting politics above legal principles.
The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid published by the Communist Party’s People’s Daily, showed a video on its official Twitter feed of thousands of police officers taking part in an anti-riot training drill in Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong.
The video showed officers in helmets and shields clashing with people in black shirts and yellow construction hats, similar to the unofficial uniform of protesters in Hong Kong.
Police have arrested more than 500 people in the protests so far and fired nearly 2,000 rounds of tear gas.
Police again fired tear gas in Sham Shui Po late on Tuesday.
Protesters have also demanded the release of Keith Fong, a student union leader from Baptist University, who was arrested on Tuesday night after being caught buying laser pointers by several plainclothesmen.
Police said in a statement a man was found in possession of offensive weapons. Protesters have often aimed pointers, which are widely available in shops, at police during recent clashes.
– Contact us at [email protected]