China’s Deputy Premier Han Zheng, a member of the high-powered Communist Party Politburo standing committee and Beijing’s point man on Hong Kong affairs, reportedly spent the past weekend in Shenzhen for an up-close look at the situation on the ground across the border.
What Han was probably watching on Sunday night was how the Hong Kong police were trying to hem in hardcore rioters, who turned the campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University close to Victoria Harbor into a stronghold.
The result was the most ferocious face-off between police and protesters since the outburst of unrest in the former British territory in June.
The outcome of that clash was an ongoing operation that has stretched into Monday. The Hong Kong police’s elite contingent – the “Raptor” squad – were continuing to round up those fleeing the PolyU campus.
Han will have to judge the competence of the officers as well as the career prospects of deputy police commissioner Chris Tang, who has been commanding the scene outside the university since Sunday. He is tipped to be promoted to lead the 40,000-strong force.
This was Han’s sixth trip from Beijing to Shenzhen this year, with the demonstrations in Hong Kong, now in their 23rd week, veering from routine weekend rallies to widespread disruptions on what were otherwise peaceful weekdays since last week.
Pugnacious protesters have been trying to up the ante to compel the government to accept their demands, ranging from an independent probe into alleged police brutality to a general amnesty for all those detained and convicted to genuine universal suffrage.
Hong Kong’s Ming Pao Daily revealed that Han landed in Shenzhen last Friday as the situation in Hong Kong started to deteriorate and throughout the weekend he convened several meetings attended by ministries for public and national security and united front work, with Hong Kong officials and bigwigs of the city’s pro-establishment camp being summoned to the mainland city as well.
Han is the head of the Communist Party’s central taskforce on Hong Kong, which includes state organs responsible for foreign affairs, public and national security as well as the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong.
Han’s latest sit-down with his mainland and Hong Kong subordinates was seen as a follow-up, after Chinese President Xi Jinping, within the short span of two weeks, issued a second call last Thursday to restore law and order in Hong Kong while attending the BRICS summit in Brasília. Xi had surprise talks with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam in Shanghai earlier this month.
Han reportedly reiterated Xi’s “unfailing support” for Lam and Hong Kong’s police during the Shenzhen meetings and beseeched all the attendees to get their acts together to quell the raging turmoil.
It was unclear if Han met Lam in Shenzhen this time, but the deputy premier did meet the Hong Kong leader in Beijing in early November.
He also told Guangdong and Shenzhen cadres to stand ready to offer assistance and logistics to Hong Kong and state agencies if the chaos in the city eventually required “more intervention.”
One day after Han flew in, the gates of a People’s Liberation Army barracks in Kowloon were swung open and members of an anti-terrorism battalion strutted out to clear nearby roads of bricks and barricades put up by protesters.