Wednesday 14 August 2019 5:14 pm

Hong Kong protests: US wades in by telling China to allow city to 'exercise autonomy'

The US has urged China to allow Hong Kong to “exercise a high degree of autonomy,” as police and demonstrators clashed again today in the wake of Chinese authorities describing the 10-week anti-government protests as “near terrorism”.

In a statement, the US State Department said: “We condemn violence and urge all sides to exercise restraint, but remain staunch in our support for freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in Hong Kong.”

Read more: Hong Kong’s airport reopens as Chinese officials describe protesters as ‘terrorists’

“The United States strongly urges Beijing to adhere to its commitments in the Sino-British Joint Declaration to allow Hong Kong to exercise a high degree of autonomy.”

After demonstrators shut down Hong Kong’s airport for the second day in a row yesterday amid violent confrontation with police, clashes started again today.

This time, the battleground was the city’s streets, as riot officers shot tear gas at protesters almost immediately, as their response to demonstrators toughens.

But after events at the airport last night, a banner held up by a group of a few dozen demonstrators in the arrivals hall this morning read: “We’re deeply sorry about what happened yesterday.”

“We were desperate and we made imperfect decisions. Please accept our apologies,” the banner said.

Skirmishes on Tuesday evening involved a group of protesters setting upon two men they suspected of being government sympathisers. Scuffles broke out as police pushed back protesters using pepper spray, while one man suspected by protesters of being an undercover cop was taken out of the main terminal by medics, injured.

A protester throws a tear gas canister back at police (Getty Images)

Concerns about Chinese involvement

Protests began more than two months ago, in opposition to a bill allowing extraditions to mainland China for trial in Communist-controlled courts. However, they have widened to highlight other grievances, winning broad support.

Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement enshrining some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back from Britain in 1997.

The statement from the US came in response to increased speculation that Chinese soldiers could enter the city to help stop the protests. President Donald Trump tweeted yesterday that US intelligence forces thought the Chinese government was “moving troops to the border with Hong Kong”.

Satellite images circulating online appeared to show Chinese military near the Hong Kong border on Wednesday, but there is no indication troops will cross the border imminently. However, state media in China has repeatedly brought up the possibility in recent days.

Flights resume in Hong Kong

Outbound flights from Hong Kong’s airport got underway again today, after two days of disruptions. Protesters occupying the airport have forced authorities to cancel thousands of flights since the start of the week.

Check-in desks reopened for passengers, some of whom had waited overnight for their flights.

Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said it would only allow entry for passengers with a boarding pass valid for the next 24 hours and had obtained an interim court injunction to stop people from obstructing operations. Protesters are only allowed to demonstrate in designated area.

Read more: Police and protesters clash as Hong Kong airport chaos continues

China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing called the behaviour at the airport no different to terrorism and said it must be severely punished.

Hong Kong’s under-pressure chief executive Carrie Lam has said the city has been pushed into a state of “panic and chaos”.

Main image: Getty