A hotly anticipated press briefing in Beijing today by the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office ended up treading a familiar government line, with the office condemning violence on the part of the city’s pro-democracy protesters and voicing continued support for police and embattled leader Carrie Lam.
As might have been expected, Yang Guang, spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO), reiterated Beijing’s commitment to the “one country, two systems” framework, and condemned the actions of the city’s pro-democracy protesters, including clashing with police, besieging government buildings, and vandalizing China’s national emblem.
However, given the unprecedented nature of the briefing — the HKMAO reportedly hasn’t held a press conference on Hong Kong affairs since the handover — and the overheated rhetoric being published in Chinese state media, Yang’s remarks were conspicuously measured.
Focusing on three main points, Yang said the HKMAO “hope[s] Hong Kong society will oppose and ban violence actions, stand by the rule of law, and improve the socioeconomic conditions in Hong Kong.”
Yang also praised Hong Kong’s police — who have been the object of sustained criticism for their handling of the protests, particularly after their ineffective response to a 35-minute mob attack on pro-democracy protesters by pro-Beijing thugs in Yuen Long.
The police have “remained restrained and professional,” and the central government “understands and sympathizes the tremendous pressure faced by police officers and their families,” Yang said.
Yang dodged reporters’ questions about the Yuen Long attackers themselves.
He also praised Chief Executive Carrie Lam, both for suspending the controversial extradition bill that first sparked the protests, and for “leading Hong Kong to prosperity.”
Observers have suggested there may be economic undertones to the recent unrest, with the city’s astronomical cost of living putting the squeeze on younger generations, and Yang returned the subject of “prosperity” more than once.
“The problems of Hong Kong had many causes,” he said at one point, in response to a reporter’s question. “The central government will support Hong Kong people and their development in China, like [with] the Greater Bay Area, provide more opportunities to Hong Kong people, and hopes all Hong Kong people will continue to work hard and prosper, and grasp the opportunity to develop.”
Reactions to Yang’s remarks back in Hong Kong, meanwhile, followed predictable party lines.
Wu Chi-wai, chairman of Democratic Party, was unsatisfied by the response, predicting the situation would get even worse.
“They don’t allow political problems to be solved by political means,” he said. “Instead, they heavily rely on the police force to resolve the problems.”
Pro-dem convenor Claudia Mo, in a press conference following the briefing, said her camp “regrets” the “wrongful understanding of the Beijing officers.”
“[We] hope Beijing tries to understand what Hong Kong people are fighting for,” she added. “I am worried that the stance of firmly supporting Hong Kong government and the police will further divide Hong Kong society.”
On the other side of the aisle, Starry Lee, the president of pro-establishment DAB, said her camp welcomed and supported Beijing’s stance, saying it was “important news.”
“The three expectations raised by the spokesperson show that Beijing is concerned about recent events in Hong Kong,” she said.