China sending army to Hong Kong border, warns Trump

Donald Trump warned that China was moving troops to the Hong Kong border as protesters clashed with riot police at the city’s international airport for a second time last night.

Scuffles broke out after protesters allegedly detained two men, accusing them of being undercover Chinese officials. One was a reporter for a state-owned newspaper.

Trouble began as a number of regular police officers entered the airport without riot gear to assist paramedics after one of the men collapsed. Protesters drove the police out of the terminal building and shortly afterwards around 50 riot police arrived.

Police used pepper spray and made several arrests as scenes briefly turned violent. One officer was cornered and beaten with his own baton before activists dispersed when he drew his pistol.

The second man was bound with cable ties and appeared semi-conscious as protesters displayed his belongings on the floor. Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the ‘Global Times’, said the man was a reporter for the Chinese state newspaper.

Protesters occupied the airport over five consecutive days as mass demonstrations against Chinese rule in Hong Kong entered a third month, despite pleas from city authorities for public order to be restored.

“Let’s set aside differences and spend one minute to look at our city and our home,” said Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, in a direct appeal to protesters. “Could we bear to push it into an abyss where everything will perish?”

She added: “Violence, no matter if it’s using violence or condoning violence, will push Hong Kong down a path of no return.” At times she appeared to be on the verge of tears, saying that “sincere dialogue” could begin only once calm had returned.

Video released by state media appeared to show Chinese paramilitary police assembling in the border city of Shenzhen. The media said China was “getting tanks ready” for a major “drill” after months of protests. Footage showed scores of heavily armoured vehicles, with more vehicles stationed in an empty sports stadium.

Wary of being seen to undermine Hong Kong’s authority, the Chinese government has so far resisted sending in its own troops. But repeated videos of military exercises appeared to be sending the message that Beijing was ready and willing to step in. Officials continued with their rhetoric, denouncing the demonstrations as “serious criminal acts with sprouts of terrorism emerging”.

Hong Kong legal experts said Beijing could be preparing to use anti-terrorism laws, and possibly the army, to quell the demonstrations.

Britain’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab said yesterday: “Concerning to see what’s happening in Hong Kong and the worrying pictures of clashes between police and protesters at the airport. As I said to Carrie Lam during my call last week, we condemn the violence and encourage constructive dialogue to find a peaceful way forward.”

US president Mr Trump last night waded in with a tweet: “Our Intelligence has informed us that the Chinese Government is moving troops to the Border with Hong Kong. Everyone should be calm and safe!” The crisis was a “very tricky situation”, he told reporters in New Jersey.

The UN high commissioner for human rights yesterday urged Hong Kong to exercise restraint and investigate evidence of its forces firing tear gas at protesters in ways banned under international law. The UN’s “wrongful statement” was later rejected, with officials saying it amounted to interference in domestic affairs.

Chris Patten, the last governor under British colonial rule, told BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme that Hong Kong was “close to the abyss”, blaming Ms Lam for refusing to withdraw a controversial extradition bill.

“I think there is a degree of frustration and anger at the government refusing to give any sensible ground at all, which probably provokes more violence,” he told the BBC. He also urged Boris Johnson to take a firmer line with Beijing.

Calm finally returned to the airport late last night and some passengers were allowed through to catch the few flights still scheduled to depart early this morning to destinations including Bangkok and Doha.

“Sorry for the inconvenience, we are fighting for the future of our home,” read one protest banner at the airport. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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