08/08/2019, 14.18
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Beijing declares war on Hong Kong protests

by Paul Wang

Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, met with 500 pro-Beijing delegates, lawmakers and businessmen in Shenzhen. Hong Kong’s protests have become a "coloured revolution", like those in some post-Soviet countries. The army could be used to restore law and order. A young student has been arrested preventively. Troll group Diba is promoting contempt for young protesters online.

Shenzhen (AsiaNews) – Beijing yesterday launched a war on several fronts – political, economic, social, IT – against the protests that have taken place in Hong Kong over the past nine weeks.

Sparked by a demand to have the extradition law scrapped, and supported by young people, activists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, ordinary people, protests have morphed into a movement demanding a democratic reform of the territory.

In recent weeks, the ruthlessness of the government and its Chief Executive Carrie Lam, deaf to the demands of the public, and the increasingly harsh response of the police, have also led to violent clashes between police and protesters, and arrests, this despite the facts that protests have been almost entirely non-violent.

The latter, which have attracted more than two million people, include the same demands: permanently scrap the extradition law, stop describing the violent confrontations as “riots",  drop charges against protesters arrested during the clashes and exonerate them unconditionally, launch a full and independent inquiry into the excessive use of force by the police, and implement universal suffrage in local elections.

The Chinese government, which remained silent for several weeks, voiced its support for the Hong Kong government and police on 29 July via the spokesmen of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

At another press conference on Tuesday, Carrie Lam and the police received further support, whilst the possible use of the Chinese army to restore order was downplayed. However, the people of Hong Kong were urged to counter the protests that threaten to undermine the local economy. Violence broke out in previous days between groups linked to the triads and defenceless passers-by.

From Shenzhen

China's strategy became clearer yesterday. Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, along with Wang Zhimin, head of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, met behind closed doors with some 500 key people from Hong Kong, including members of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC ) as well as pro-government Hong Kong lawmakers, at a seminar in Shenzhen.

Journalists were allowed to attend the first ten minutes of the seminar when Zhang gave his opening remarks.

Some sources report that Zhang warned that the protests in Hong Kong have become very similar to a "coloured revolution" and that it was necessary to "safeguard our homeland and prevent Hong Kong from sinking into an abyss".

The term "coloured revolution" refers to the civil unrest that developed in the early 2000s in some former Soviet republics, which China dreads. For years, China’s Communist leaders have feared their regime might suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union, pushing them to seek total control over the media, activists, NGOs and religious groups.

At the seminar in Shenzhen, Zhang again reiterated Beijing’s full support for Hong Kong’s leader and police force, stressing that backing them was key to restoring order.

Zhang warned that if the protest crisis escalated beyond the local government’s control, Beijing would not sit by and watch. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could be deployed to restore law and order.

He left open the possibility of an independent probe – one of the protesters’ demand – but said that this is not the most urgent thing and should wait until “things quiet down”.

Hong Kong lawmakers and delegates, like Maria Tam, Elsie Leung, Regina Ip and Ip Kwok-him, immediately backed Zhang. For the latter, young protesters have been manipulated by outside forces, a claim mainland Chinese media have been conveying for some time.

In Hong Kong

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong the police are becoming increasingly inflexible. Two days ago, five off-duty policemen arrested Keith Fong Chung-yin, 20, head of the Baptist University’s students’ union.

Fong had just bought ten laser pointers, which are often used in games, in the Sham Shui Po neighbourhood. Police arrested him claiming that the pointers could be used against them, that the beams emitted by laser pointers can cause flash blindness and serious injuries to eyes.

Due to the preventive arrest, more than a thousand people, including many of Fong’s fellow students, protested outside the Sham Shui Po Police Station, hurling bricks and writing slogans on the walls, whilst law enforcement officers fired rounds of tear gas to clear the crowd.

Last night, hundreds of students also gathered outside the Hong Kong Space Museum in Tsim Sha Tsui, shining their pointers at the building's dome, mockingly shouting: "Is the building on fire yet?" (picture 2).

On the web

In recent weeks, a Chinese nationalist group, praised by state media, started a cyber war against sites and people linked to anti-government protests.

Called "Diba", the group is famous for its internet trolling attacks and provocative messages.

Diba’s troll army is believed to be behind memes depicting hard hat-wearing protesters as cockroaches and zombies, calling them “rubbish youth”, “yellow zombies” (yellow is the signature colour of the pro-democracy movement) and dogs.

In Hong Kong, such trolls are known as wumao, or “50 cent trolls”, which refers to the amount of money China’s web police pays for attacks against China’s critics.

Diba trolls have become very powerful on Facebook, Weibo and Tieba, reaching up to 20 million members. It is not affiliated with the Communist Party, but follows the government line in domestic and foreign policies.

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