Three senior Hong Kong police officers said Thursday that they are not aware of any plans for Chinese forces to join efforts to quell mass demonstrations in the territory, as images this week showed paramilitary exercises in a neighboring mainland city.
The officers added that they are unsure whether they would be informed ahead of time if Chinese paramilitary or army forces were deployed in Hong Kong. They agreed to speak to a group of reporters for foreign media only on the condition of anonymity.
Protests that began in early June have paralyzed parts of the territory, including its international airport, and led to more than 700 arrests. The largely peaceful rallies attended by tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents have increasingly concluded in clashes between some protesters and police. While protesters have thrown bricks, gasoline bombs and other objects at law enforcement, riot police have countered with tear gas and rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse crowds.
The senior police officers said the situation is “worse than Occupy Central,” a 79-day pro-democracy sit-in in 2014. While the current movement was initially a response to now-suspended extradition legislation, the focus has since shifted to democracy and demands for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.
No officer has been disciplined for use of excessive force since the protests began, according to the senior police officers.
“It’s difficult to say if we are really losing public support,” one officer said. Another officer referred to a “silent majority” of Hong Kong residents who support the police but are afraid to publicly voice their opinions.
Residents of neighborhoods hosting the protests have taken to heckling police officers and calling them “gangsters” after media footage showed police officers swinging their batons at protesters and firing rubber bullets and tear gas at close range. The senior police officers said about 300 of their colleagues have had their personal information shared online. In some cases, people have appeared at officers’ homes at odd hours or circulated photos of their children.
China’s ambassador to the U.K. said Thursday the Beijing government will not “sit on its hands” if the situation in Hong Kong continues to deteriorate after more than two months of near-daily street protests.
Liu Xiaoming said extremists masquerading as pro-democracy activists are dragging Hong Kong “down a dangerous road.” He told a news conference in London that if unrest becomes “uncontrollable . the central government would not sit on its hands and watch.”
Source: Associated Press – Yanan Wang and Christopher Bodeen