Beijing’s man in London says it is ready to intervene to quell the unrest if it reaches a “uncontrollable” level.
The message from the Chinese ambassador to London was clear: China is ready to intervene in Hong Kong to quell the unrest if it reaches a level that is “uncontrollable”.
Liu Xiaoming only ever gives a news conference when he has something significant to say.
In fact, he has only ever addressed the media at his embassy twice in 10 years as Beijing’s man in London. The last appearance, last month, was also about the former British colony.
This makes Beijing’s choice of its English-speaking man in London to convey its position to the world all the more pertinent.
Not only is Mr Liu a very experienced and highly trusted diplomat, but he is also serving in the capital of the country that once saw Hong Kong as its own.
The ambassador did not specify what form the action Beijing would take in Hong Kong if pushed.
He simply said President Xi Jinping’s government has “enough solutions and power” to “quell any unrest swiftly”.
I asked Mr Liu whether he could give a sense of the scale of the forces ready to mobilise if required, but he did not want to go further than his carefully crafted phrases.
“We haven’t got to the point to discuss about what kind of scale of power and solutions we are going to use,” Mr Liu said.
He repeatedly said Beijing still has confidence in the Hong Kong government and police to be able to handle the situation.
That said, it will be missed by no one that Chinese paramilitary forces and hundreds of armoured personnel carriers are on display in the city of Shenzhen – the closest city in mainland China to Hong Kong.
The ambassador had a warning for what he described as “foreign forces” who he said were behind the protests, hinting that they risked getting hurt.
Mr Liu said: “Immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, stop conniving in violent offences.
“They should not misjudge the situation and go down the wrong path. Otherwise they will lift the stone only to drop it on their own feet.”
The ambassador took a swipe at Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chair of the foreign affairs select committee, who said Hong Kong residents should be made British citizens.
“Some politicians in this country though their body lives in the 21st century but their head is still in the colonial days,” Mr Liu said.
“Some of them still regard Hong Kong as part of the British empire and they treat Hong Kong as part of the UK. That is the problem.
“They are going to have to change their mindset, to put them in a proper position and regard Hong Kong as a part of China and not as a part of the UK.”
At his only other news conference last month, the ambassador attacked comments by then foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt that had been critical of Beijing’s response to the Hong Kong protests. He warned that relations between the UK and China have been damaged.
I asked about the status of relations now with Boris Johnson as prime minister.
Mr Liu said he hoped they would follow in the direction of the “golden era” declared by Mr Xi on his state visit to Britain in 2015, but this would only be the case if Britain respects Hong Kong as an internal Chinese matter. If it does not do that there will be further setbacks.
“We do hope that the new administration will handle the Hong Kong issue – which is about China’s sovereignty, about China’s internal territorial integrity, China internal affairs… with extreme caution.”
The ambassador did not give any ground when asked about whether the protesters in Hong Kong were actually motivated by genuine grievances about Beijing encroaching on the special status they are supposed to enjoy under the “one country, two systems” policy that has framed the territory since the end of British rule in 1997.
Mr Liu insisted the majority of protesters had been “misled”.
He said of course there are always complaints in any country, but that for the people of Hong Kong their local authorities and the government in Beijing try to address them.
Instead he blamed a “handful of extreme radicals” for causing the violence.
He accused the Western media of misrepresenting the reality of the ground and used a montage of video clips from over the past 10 weeks to show – as he saw it – the protesters as lawless rioters.
The ambassador asked whether in the UK the authorities would allow protesters to raid the Houses of Parliament, set fire to police stations or barricade an airport.