Protests show no sign of foreign interference Hong Kong police say, contradicting Beijing

Police fire tear gas to clear pro-Democracy protesters during a demonstration on Hungry Ghost Festival day in the Sham Shui Po district – Getty Images AsiaPac

Mass protests that have besieged Hong Kong all summer show no signs of foreign influence or interference, according to the city’s police force, signalling a split between Beijing and the police.

“From the operational angle, I cannot see that at this stage,” said a senior police official at a roundtable briefing at its headquarters, when asked if there were any signs of foreign funding or organising of the protests that have brought millions to the streets.

The comments from Hong Kong police directly contradict Beijing’s claims that unidentified foreign forces, deemed “black hands,” are fomenting protests in Hong Kong.

“Foreign forces must stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs,” Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the UK, said on Thursday.

“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.”

Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the UK, speaks during a news conference at the Chinese Embassy Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

For weeks, Beijing has condemned demonstrators as pawns used by the West to usurp Chinese authorities, denouncing them for plotting a “colour revolution” with external help, referring to anti-Communist uprisings.

China has embarked on a remarkable propaganda campaign to discredit the protesters while also issuing ominous warnings that military and police reinforcements were ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.

It’s a significant shift from early June when mass rallies began; at the time, Chinese government censors worked overtime to scrub any mention of the protests.

The demonstrations are considered a hugely sensitive matter, representing the biggest challenge to Xi Jinping since becoming leader of the ruling Communist Party.

A protester attempts to kick a tear gas canister during a demonstration on Hungry Ghost Festival day in Sham Shui Po district  Credit: Getty

Experts say that the Chinese government is working to prime public opinion for a potential crackdown in Hong Kong, though such a move is still widely considered a last resort.

Chinese intervention would essentially confirm that the ruling Communist Party has failed to win the hearts and minds of the seven million people in the former British colony, and risk severely damaging the city’s image as a global financial hub.

Protesters first took to the streets against a now-suspended extradition proposal that would have sent people to face trial in mainland China, where Communist Party control of the courts contributes to a 99.9 per cent conviction rate.

Their calls have since grown to encompass broader political reforms, including direct leadership elections, and anger is rising significantly against the police for using violent crowd control measures, shooting thousands of rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds.

On Thursday, hundreds of China’s People’s Armed Police conducted exercises at a sports stadium in Shenzhen, as the US State Department expressed concern that they could be deployed across the border in Hong Kong to break up protests wracking the city.

Men in fatigues could be seen in a stadium at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre, and shouts and whistles could be heard by a Reuters journalist on Thursday morning.

Later in the day, police carried out exercises in which they divided into two groups, one wearing black t-shirts similar to those worn by some protesters in Hong Kong.

The other group remained in uniform and picked up crowd-control shields and practised charging at the first group.