Increasingly violent protests in Hong Kong are the “creation of the U.S.,” China charged Tuesday, for the first time laying direct blame on Washington as their dispute over the unrest escalates.Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the remark at a news briefing in response to comments by U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. The top American diplomat had said Monday that he hoped “the Chinese will do the right thing” in managing the demonstrations.“It’s clear that Mr. Pompeo has put himself in the wrong position and still regards himself as the head of the CIA,” Hua said, referring to Pompeo’s previous role at the intelligence agency. “He might think that violent activities in Hong Kong are reasonable because after all, this is the creation of the U.S.”The comments show that U.S.-China strains over Hong Kong are increasing, even as the two sides resume trade talks in Shanghai. Last week, Hua urged Washington to remove its “black hand” from the protests, a comment that the State Department dismissed as “ridiculous.” Beijing has long attributed unrest in Hong Kong and other regions under its control to unspecified foreign forces, with the U.S. and the U.K. as the most obvious targets. Those complaints have increased in recent weeks as American and European governments and companies issue statements urging China to respect the rights of Hong Kong protesters critical of the government in the former British colony.Hundreds of people surrounded a police station in Hong Kong on Tuesday chanting “free the martyrs” after 44 activists were charged with rioting following weekend clashes between protesters and police defending China’s representative office.It was the first time the rioting charge has been used during the protests, which erupted over an extradition bill that would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial. Another man was charged with possession of an offensive weapon.Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Sunday as they sought to defend China’s main representative office from protesters who set up road blocks and hurled bricks and sticks.What started three months ago as rallies against the extradition bill, has evolved into a wider backlash against the city’s government and its political masters in Beijing.
A police officer holds a firearm during clashes with protesters who had gathered outside Kwai Chung police station, in support of protesters detained with the charge of rioting, in Hong Kong on July 30, 2019.
Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images
The near daily protests have disrupted business, piled pressure on the city’s government and stretched its police force, which some have accused of using excessive force.Hundreds of protesters gathered Tuesday at the Kwai Chung police station where some of the activists were to be freed on bail. Clashes broke out between the protesters and police. One officer brandished a gun to ward off the crowd.Rioting carries a maximum 10-year jail term in Hong Kong. Activists say they have done nothing wrong and are only seeking justice. In the driving rain, many chanted “Liberate Hong Kong,” and “Revolution of our time.”Besides calling for the extradition bill to be scrapped, rather than its suspension so far, protesters have also demanded the resignation of city leader Carrie Lam, an independent inquiry into the police’s handling of the crisis and the unconditional release of all those arrested.Protesters argue that they’ve been driven to guerrilla tactics because the former British colony’s unelected government is ignoring historic protests and the police are withholding protest permits and increasing their use of force. Since last month, different groups in the largely leaderless movement have surrounded police headquarters, mobbed government buildings and ransacked the city’s legislature.It was you who taught me that peaceful marches are useless
“Every confrontation between the protesters and the police has exacerbated their mutual hostility,” said Hong Kong political commentator Joseph Cheng Tuesday. “It is difficult that there are no solutions in sight, no reconciliation process going on and it has become a test of wills.”Antony Dapiran, writing in Foreign Policy magazine, noted that among the graffiti spray-painted by protesters on the walls of the Legislative Council were the words: “It was you who taught me that peaceful marches are useless.”Early on Tuesday, protesters blocked train services during the morning rush hour.“We don’t know how long we are going to stay here, we don’t have a leader, as you can see this is a mass movement now,” said Sharon, a 21-year-old masked protester who declined to give her full name.“It’s not our intention to inconvenience people, but we have to make the authorities understand why we protest. We will continue with this as long as needed.”By mid-morning, commuters were crammed into stations across the city, waiting to board trains that were delayed, with no service on some lines.
Protesters gather outside Kwai Chung police station in support of protesters detained with the charge of rioting during recent clashes in Hong Kong on July 30, 2019.
Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images
Tying the U.S. to the unrest could serve several purposes for Beijing, including discrediting the protesters, rallying mainland sentiment against them and potentially justifying more direct intervention. China’s top government agency overseeing the city on Monday reiterated that preventing Hong Kong from becoming a “base to undermine China” was one of its three “bottom lines.”In her remarks Tuesday, Hua noted that some demonstrators looked American and waved U.S. flags.“In the media footage of the violent protests, many U.S. faces appeared among the protesters, even U.S. national flags at one point, Hua said. “What role does the U.S. play exactly in the recent Hong Kong protests? The U.S. owes the world an explanation on this matter.”Pompeo is due to arrive in the region on Wednesday to attend Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings in Bangkok, where he may cross paths with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi.