Hong Kong, AP—China’s ruling party mouthpiece warned of “chaos” in Hong Kong, and expressed strong support for its leader in his face-off with pro-democracy protesters who have threatened to occupy government offices unless he steps down by the end of Thursday.
The People’s Daily said in a commentary that the “central government fully trusts Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and is very satisfied with his work.” It added that it firmly supports the Hong Kong police—criticized for using tear gas and pepper spray on the protesters last weekend—”to handle illegal activities in accordance with the law.”
The weeklong street protests by thousands of demonstrators pressing for freer elections in Hong Kong are the biggest challenge to Beijing’s authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.
Thursday’s commentary in the People’s Daily is a reflection of the growing concern in Beijing that the protests could spiral out of Leung’s control. But the Communist Party is known to send mixed signals at times, and such public support for Leung could also mean that Beijing is holding him responsible for bringing order quickly and decisively.
The commentary said that the rule of law must be safeguarded “in order to realize the healthy development of democracy and politics in Hong Kong.”
“Handling affairs without following laws, Hong Kong society will be in chaos,” said the commentary, published Thursday, adding that the rule of law must be safeguarded to ensure “healthy development of democracy and politics in Hong Kong.”
The hard-hitting comments came a day after student leaders demanded that Leung resign by midnight Thursday. If he does not, they said they would step up their actions, including occupying government buildings, raising the specter of another clash with police. Since Monday, the protests have been peaceful.
“We are not asking C.Y. to come talk to us. We are demanding he resign,” said May Tang, a 21-year-old student at Lingnan University, referring to Leung. “It’s too late for his government to be accountable to the people so we want a new one.”
The protesters’ chief complaint is over Beijing’s decision in August that all candidates in an inaugural 2017 election for the territory’s top post must be approved by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing local elites. They say China is reneging on its promise that the chief executive would be chosen through “universal suffrage.”
The number of protesters in front of the Hong Kong government headquarters dwindled Thursday after swelling to tens of thousands the previous day, a holiday when many families and couples visited the protest zone, snapping photos of themselves amid the crowds. Thursday was also a holiday, but fewer people appeared to be camped out in the Admiralty area near the government complex.
The People’s Daily said the protesters had “flagrantly violated Hong Kong’s law and regulations, seriously blocked traffic and disrupted social order. They have put a handful of people’s political demands above the law, even hijacked the will of Hong Kong people for their personal interests.”
Separately, an editorial read Wednesday evening on China’s state TV said all Hong Kong residents should support authorities in their efforts to “deploy police enforcement decisively” and “restore the social order in Hong Kong as soon as possible.”
Police manned a barricade set up outside the chief executive’s office entrance. On the other side, several dozen student-age protesters were camped out, huddled under umbrellas to protect against the sun.
One protester disagreed with the student leaders’ threat to occupy government buildings.”Getting into a confrontation with police doesn’t seem peaceful to me,” said Wilson Yip, a 22-year-old recent university graduate. “If they try to force themselves inside and confront police, I don’t see what kind of point that would make. It may make fewer people support the protests.”
In Washington on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and said the US supports the “highest possible degree of autonomy” in Hong Kong. He said he hopes Hong Kong authorities exercise restraint and allow the protesters to express their views peacefully.
Wang said that the protests are “China’s internal affairs” and that no country would allow “illegal acts” against public order.