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China Ramps Up Talk of Army Intervention Amid Hong Kong Violence

Iain Marlow and Jacob Gu

(Bloomberg) -- Chinese state media gave one of its strongest warnings yet of a possible military intervention in Hong Kong, even though analysts said such a move remained a last resort.

The unsigned commentary from the official Xinhua News Agency on Sunday came after the 12th straight weekend of unrest in Asia’s main financial hub, with violent clashes that saw demonstrators hurl petrol bombs and police deploy water cannons and tear gas. The piece didn’t say whether Chinese authorities had reached any decision to act or when, only that they had the legal mechanisms needed to deploy forces in the special administrative region.

“This is no longer a regular demonstration, but a ‘color revolution’ that is aimed at destroying the SAR constitutional order from the bottom,” the Xinhua commentary said, citing remarks by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping saying Beijing must act under such circumstances. “It is the central government’s power, and also the central government’s responsibility.”

The message from Beijing came during a weekend that saw violence reemerge in Hong Kong after days of largely peaceful demonstrations. The tense confrontations -- in which a police officer fired a warning shot in the air -- could’ve prompted the sterner tone, said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

“The Chinese government is prepared for armed intervention, but this is a last resort,” he added. “I don’t think the Chinese government will do that before exhausting the Hong Kong government’s options.”

The Hong Kong police still had plenty of room to escalate their own response before China would risk the severe political and economic fallout from a direct intervention, Shi said. “The words have become harsher, and that means a little bit of an escalation from current statements,” he said.

President Donald Trump on Aug. 13 said reports from U.S. intelligence agencies showed the Chinese government moving troops to its border with Hong Kong. A day earlier, Global Times, a Chinese tabloid run by the People’s Daily, reported that the People’s Armed Police were assembling in Shenzhen ahead of “apparent large-scale exercises,” where “numerous” armored personnel carriers, trucks and other vehicles of the paramilitary force were seen heading toward Hong Kong’s neighboring city.

Previously, Chinese officials had described the Hong Kong protests as having some characteristics of a color revolution, referring to a style of anti-government movements that developed in places including former Soviet states in the early 2000s. The violent acts of protesters have pushed Hong Kong “to the verge of a very dangerous situation,” the city’s government said in a statement early Monday.

Escalating Violence

With no sign of a political solution between the local government and the demonstrators, Beijing was relying on state propaganda warnings of military intervention to influence the trajectory of the protests, Hong Kong’s former No. 2 official, Anson Chan, told Bloomberg on Monday.

“I hope very much that Beijing will never feel it necessary to send in the troops,” said Chan, a senior member of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp. “It has certainly not come to that point, but I fear that the longer the government goes without responding to any of the public demands, then the higher the risk of escalating violence.”

(Updates with analyst comment in fourth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Dandan Li, Huang Zhe, Steve Geimann and Karen Leigh.

To contact the reporters on this story: Iain Marlow in Hong Kong at imarlow1@bloomberg.net;Jacob Gu in New York at jgu3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Daniel Ten Kate

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