Hong Kong is facing its "most severe situation" since its handover from British rule in 1997 following weeks of demonstrations and the central government is considering what measures to take next, the head of Beijing's Cabinet office responsible for the territory said Wednesday. Zhang Xiaoming was speaking to Hong Kong residents attending a seminar in the mainland city of Shenzhen, just across the border from the Asian financial hub that has been wracked by daily protests against the administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the AP reports. Those protests are getting increasingly violent and having "an increasingly broad impact on society," Zhang told the 500 attendees, who included members of the Hong Kong and central government legislative and advisory bodies. "It can be said that Hong Kong is facing the most severe situation it has faced since the handover," Zhang said.
Officials in Beijing were "highly concerned" and studying the situation to make a determination and decide on measures to take, Zhang said. Another Chinese official said Tuesday that it would be "only a matter of time" before those behind the protests are punished, further indicating that Beijing will take a hard line against the demonstrators and has no plans to negotiate over their demands for political reforms. "We would like to make it clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them: Those who play with fire will perish by it," said Yang Guang, spokesman for the Chinese Cabinet's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office. Lawyer Dennis Kwok said government warnings of stern measures against protesters will merely flame the people's anger. He called for an independent investigation into the actions of police and protesters.
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