The Current

Chinese intervention in Hong Kong protests could change the region 'as we know it': former diplomat

As protests close Hong Kong airport for a second day, we explore how the unrest is being portrayed in mainland China. We speak to an activist in Canada, and a former diplomat who warns that an intervention could be on the table.

Government intervention could be on the table if protests 'spiralling' out of control: Gordon Houlden

Protests closed Hong Kong's international airport for a second day Tuesday. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)
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The deployment of Chinese troops near Hong Kong is a "clear warning" to protesters, but also a message to China's own citizens, according to a former Canadian diplomat.

"The fact that these images are being shown within Chinese media, within China, is ... I think preparing the Chinese people perhaps for a possible intervention," said Gordon Houlden, who spent 22 years working on Chinese affairs for the Canadian government, including two postings to Hong Kong.

Houlden is also director of the China Institute and a professor of political science at the University of Alberta. He told The Current's guest host Duncan McCue that he doesn't believe Beijing wants to intervene, and would rather "the Hong Kong government maintain order themselves, using their own resources."

"But if push comes to shove, if they sense that things are spiralling out of ... control of the Hong Kong government, I think intervention is on the table."

Houlden warned that if force is used to suppress the protests, it "could put at risk the Hong Kong as we know it."

For a second consecutive day, protesters of China's grip on Hong Kong disrupted air travel. 0:56

Anti-government protests closed Hong Kong's airport for a second day Monday, as unrest grew over an extradition bill that residents see as China's latest attempt to erode their political freedoms. Police moved in to the airport to clear protesters Tuesday.

Across the border in the city of Shenzhen, paramilitary police assembled for exercises. Online images showed armoured personnel carriers in convoy to the location. 

Chinese coverage of protests has changed: journalist

Journalist Sophia Yan noted that coverage in Chinese media has changed over the 10 weeks of protests.

"At first when the protests kicked off [in] early June, [in] Chinese state media there was no mention of it; the government in Beijing said nothing," said Yan, a China correspondent at the Telegraph.

"These days it's a really different story. They've continued to show images of Hong Kong covered in tear gas, and the officials from Beijing have condemned the protesters for disrupting the city and for hurting the economy," she explained.

"Certainly these scenes of violence are happening, but state media ... haven't necessarily explained the root [or] the cause of why protesters are so angry."

China's People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong released a video showing footage of 'anti-riot' exercises and featured a red flag with a warning similar to what Hong Kong police have long used during protests. 0:23

The Current requested an interview with the Chinese embassy in Canada, and received a statement via email.

"Hong Kong's radical protesters repeatedly attacking police officers with extremely dangerous tools, including petrol bombs, in the past few days have begun to show 'sign of terrorism,'" the statement said.

"The radicals, under the pretext of 'demand for democracy' have maliciously plotted to paralyze the governance of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and threaten the bottom line of 'one country, two systems' for their own political gains." 

Martin Seto is a member of Friends of Hong Kong Calgary, a group organizing support for the protests among Canadians.

He accused the Chinese government of "living in [the] Stone Age."

"They don't know that ... the information out there is so open on the internet, and their propaganda looks like amateur," he said.


Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC News. Produced by Julie Crysler, Allie Jaynes, Idella Sturino.

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