China’s Hong Kong affairs office condemned what it called “near-terrorist acts” at Hong Kong’s airport and reiterated support for local authorities to severely punish those responsible amid an escalating crisis in the Chinese-controlled city.
The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, in a statement issued on Wednesday, also strongly condemned attacks against a reporter from one of China’s largest government-backed newspapers and a traveller at the airport by what it said were violent protesters.
Ten weeks of increasingly violent clashes between police and pro-democracy protesters, angered by a perceived erosion of freedoms, are posing one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
Demonstrators and riot police clashed at Hong Kong’s airport late on Tuesday after flights were cancelled for a second day. Protesters at one point held a man who Chinese media have said was a reporter from China’s Global Times newspaper.
Hong Kong’s airport resumed operations on Wednesday, rescheduling hundreds of flights that had been disrupted over the past two days as protesters clashed with riot police in a deepening crisis in the Chinese-controlled city.
Watch as protesters descend on Hong Kong’s airport on Tuesday:
Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said it had obtained “an interim injunction to restrain persons from unlawfully and willfully obstructing or interfering” with airport operations. It said an area of the airport had been set aside for demonstrations, but no protests would be allowed outside the designated area.
Security at the airport was stricter than usual with several entrances closed, police patrolling and staff checking traveler identification; the airport authority said it would only allow entry for passengers with a boarding pass valid for the next 24 hours.
Some protesters expressed remorse for the clashes overnight. One 22-year-old frontliner who identified himself as Pun said protesters needed to re-evaluate their strategy to continue with the fight.
“We are not trying to overthrow the government or cut ourselves off from China. But we fight for our rights; democracy was promised as part of ‘one country, two systems.'”
A few dozen protesters remained at the airport early in the day while workers scrubbed it clean of blood and debris from overnight. Check-in counters reopened to queues of hundreds of weary travellers who had waited overnight for their flights.
Hong Kong police said they arrested five people over the past two days in the airport for unlawful assembly, assaulting police officers and possessing weapons, bringing the number arrested since the protests began in June to more than 600.
Communist Party newspaper calls for ‘sword of the law’
Chinese state media called on Beijing to deal with protests in Hong Kong more decisively. A front-page commentary on the overseas edition of the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper said on Wednesday Hong Kong had reached a critical juncture.
“Using the sword of the law to stop violence and restore order is overwhelmingly the most important and urgent task for Hong Kong!” it said.
Another commentary by a Shenzhen University researcher, published by the China Daily, said the central government should deal with Hong Kong issues more decisively.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter overnight the Chinese government was moving troops to the border with Hong Kong and urged calm. It was not immediately clear whether Trump was reporting fresh troop movements or movements near the border already reported in the media.
Chinese state media, however, has stopped short of calling for military action to deal with the protests.
Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong after China took it back from Britain in 1997.
They are also demanding Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam step down and scrap proposed legislation under which some suspects could be sent to mainland China, where critics say they could face torture and unfair or politically charged trials.
“Extreme political ideas have found frequent expression in Hong Kong, with some even raising ‘Hong Kong independence’ slogans recently. Which means the ‘one country, two systems’ principle faces a new challenge,” Chinese author Li Peiwen said.
Chinese state media has also posted messages of support for the Hong Kong police, describing what was happening in the city as “a shame.” Such posts were the most-discussed topics on China’s social media platforms on Wednesday.
“We support the Hong Kong police too!” said a post on the People’s Daily’s official Twitter-like Weibo account that was reposted more than 500,000 times.
People online have been closely watching what Beijing might do next after China this week condemned some protesters for using dangerous tools to attack police and said the clashes showed “sprouts of terrorism.”
The Global Times reported on Monday that China’s People’s Armed Police assembled in the southeastern city of Shenzhen, fuelling speculation of a possible intervention in Hong Kong.
Some reactions on China’s social media platforms called for Beijing to intervene while many others urged calm.
Some 21 countries and regions have issued travel safety alerts, saying the protests have become more violent and unpredictable.