HONG KONG -- Beijing on Tuesday sent a strong warning to Hong Kong protesters during its second press briefing in a week, after an unprecedented strike and public disobedience rocked the financial center.
Speaking forcefully, Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office under China's State Council, warned that Beijing will not tolerate any challenge to its authority and called radical protesters "unscrupulous people."
He also blamed Western politicians for making "irresponsible remarks" that he believes have worsened Hong Kong's situation.
"The central government will never allow any challenge to the 'one country, two systems' principle, and will never allow any turbulence that will threaten national unity or security that the [Hong Kong] government cannot control," Yang said.
Yang's comment came one day after an estimated 300,000 workers -- roughly 8% of the city's labor force -- went on strike, according to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, the pro-democratic party behind the move. The strike and other non-cooperative activities by protesters disrupted hundreds of flights and also stopped subways and trains, preventing many residents from going to work.
Yang reiterated Beijing's support for Chief Executive Carrie Lam, claiming that any attempt aimed at forcing her to step down will not succeed.
"We want to warn a handful of violent criminals and meddling hands behind the scene that any attempt to play with fire will only backfire," Yang said. "As for their punishment, it's only a matter of time."
Meanwhile, Yang cited several news reports of "rare" meetings between U.S. officials and Hong Kong dissidents in the past months, as he blamed Western and Taiwan politicians for making remarks that have incited the protesters. But the spokesman did not offer evidence beyond what had already been reported.
"At the end of the day, the future of Hong Kong is in the hands of all Chinese people, including Hong Kongers," he said.
Xu Luying, another Beijing spokesperson at the news conference, blamed Hong Kong's educational institutions for the significant youth participation in the protests, and urged schools to promote patriotism. "It's important for young people to realize the importance of loving their country and Hong Kong," Xu said. "This is the first lesson they have to learn. Regrettably, there is an absence of such lessons in many schools."
Despite Beijing's more forceful tone, Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political science lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the remarks largely repeated what Carrie Lam had said during her media briefing on Monday. Both, Choy said, tried to divide Hong Kongers by citing economic damage and threatening protesters with legal consequences.
"Clearly, Beijing is trying to show support for Lam," Choy said, adding that the frequent news conferences are a tactic for showing that the central government cares about the situation in Hong Kong.
As a countermeasure, several protesters held a grassroots news conference on livestreaming platforms on Tuesday, in which they accused the government of distorting the truth.
People in Hong Kong started protesting in June, at first against the extradition bill that would allow Beijing to extradite Hong Kong citizens to mainland China. The bill was later suspended, but protests continued as some demanded Carrie Lam step down. Many protests turned violent, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds.
The protests later spread to other issues, prompting the major strike on Monday.
The police arrested 148 people on Monday, the youngest being just 13, a spokesperson said. About 800 rounds of tear gas and 140 rubber bullets were fired to disperse crowds in several districts.