Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam warned yesterday that the Chinese military could step in if an uprising that has rocked the city for months "becomes so bad" that it would be difficult to maintain order, but said the government still hopes to resolve the crisis by itself.
"At this point in time, I still strongly feel that we should find the solutions ourselves. It is also the position of the central government [in Beijing] that Hong Kong should tackle the problem on her own. But if the situation becomes so bad, then no options can be ruled out if we want Hong Kong to at least have another chance," Lam said in her weekly press conference. Lam said Beijing wanted Hong Kong to solve its own problems, but under its mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, Hong Kong could ask Beijing for help. According to the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini constitution, the PLA troops can only intervene at the request of the Hong Kong government to maintain public order unless China declares an all-out state of emergency or war in Hong Kong. She also urged foreign critics to accept that the four months of protests marked by escalating violence were no longer "a peaceful movement for democracy."
The protests, which show no sign of abating, pose the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012 and are Hong Kong's thorniest political crisis since Britain returned it to China in 1997. Recent rallies have spiraled into some of the most violent clashes since protests started four months ago, forcing the unprecedented shut down of the city's metro after many stations were torched and scores of shops and Chinese banks damaged. China earlier condemned "gross interference" by Western countries, especially the U.S. and Britain, while accusing them of fomenting the demonstrations. It has denounced the protests and warned of the damage to the economy of Hong Kong, a major financial center. It also framed the protests as "terrorism," part of a pattern of increasingly ominous warnings that have raised fears it might deploy force to quell the unrest.
In July, China issued a stark reminder that its army could be deployed in Hong Kong if city authorities requested support in maintaining "public order" after weeks of sometimes violent protests. This was the first time Beijing has publicly referred to the possibility of deploying People's Liberation Army (PLA) personnel to deal with the unrest in Hong Kong. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has maintained a garrison in Hong Kong since the former British colony was returned to China in 1997, but its troops generally keep a low profile and are rarely seen in uniform in public.