A US official has described China as a “thuggish regime” for disclosing personal details about a US diplomat who met student leaders involved in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
The denunciation came as the US became the latest country to issue a travel alert to the territory on Thursday, and Hong Kong’s police force brought out of retirement a senior officer who led the police response to the 2014 Occupy movement.
China’s Hong Kong office asked the US on Thursday to explain reports in Communist party-controlled media that American diplomats were in contact with leaders of protests that have convulsed Hong Kong for nine weeks.
Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao published a photograph of a US diplomat, who it identified as Julie Eadeh of the consulate’s political section, talking to student leaders including Joshua Wong in the lobby of a luxury hotel.
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The photograph appeared under the headline “Foreign Forces Intervene”, continuing a theme of previous protests from Beijing officials, who have blamed Hong Kong’s unrest on “black hands” from the US.
“I don’t think that leaking an American diplomat’s private information, pictures, names of their children, I don’t think that is a formal protest, that is what a thuggish regime would do,” state department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told a briefing late on Thursday. “That is not how a responsible nation would behave.”
Ortagus did not name the diplomat, or elaborate further on what kinds of private information or children’s details were disclosed.
In Hong Kong, protesters prepared for another three days of mass demonstrations, amid rumours that triad gangsters were organising further attacks on Sunday. On Friday (today), they headed to the airport for a three-day “passenger greeting” at the arrivals hall, with protests in four other districts over the weekend.
The Hong Kong government looked to reassure visitors, saying in a statement: “The impact of these illegal confrontations is confined to a limited area near the procession routes, and is not widespread”.
On Friday, police pulled a former top senior official who led the police response to the 2014 Occupy protests out of retirement to help manage the ongoing unrest.
Former deputy commissioner Lau Yip-shing would assist the commissioner in handling large-scale public order events, including the 70th anniversary of China’s founding, police said.
Steve Vickers, a former head of the Royal Hong Kong Police Criminal Intelligence Bureau, said: “He has a reasonably strong reputation, is honest and quite tough. He’s the sort of guy that will get things done.”
Vickers said he expected the violence to escalate as the “hardcore” demonstrators, in which case public sentiment could turn against them and even hurt the democracy movement in Hong Kong overall.
However, pro-democracy lawmaker Fernando Cheung said such violence would “backfire on all parties”, adding that the democrats did not “condone any violence”.
He said they were choosing not to issue condemnations because they were more focused on asking for solutions to the current crisis. “Condemnation goes nowhere, we’re asking for a solution”, said Cheung.
He said he worried ordinary people would be dragged into the fray, as the division between the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps continued to grow.
He said he thought it would be impossible for the escalation to cease without a positive response from the government to at least two of the protesters’ demands; the full withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill and the set up of an inquiry committee into the conduct of police.
A recent poll of more than 1,000 respondents by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Group found 80% were in favour of setting up an independent commission while 73% backed a full withdrawal of the bill, reported the South China Morning Post.
Amid an ongoing trade war, China has accused foreign powers, particularly the US, of fomenting the demonstrations in Hong Kong.
In the latest dispute, CCTV, the state-run broadcaster, called the US diplomat “the behind-the-scenes black hand creating chaos in Hong Kong”, according to the New York Times, employing the term used against those who led the anti-government protests leading up to the Tiananmen massacre in 1989.
The protests, in which police have fired teargas and rubber bullets, began over a draft law that would have allowed the extradition of suspects to mainland courts. They have since grown into a broader backlash against the leaders of the former British colony and their political masters in Beijing.
Ortagus said it was the job of US diplomats and those from other countries to meet different people, including opposition leaders.
“This is not only what American diplomats do. This is what other countries* diplomats do,” she said.
By Dominic C. Odoh
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