China has condemned violent clashes in the Hong Kong protests as “behaviour that is close to terrorism” – in a sign of its rhetoric hardening.
After days of peaceful protests at Hong Kong International Airport, clashes with police broke out on Tuesday night.
Video showed an officer drawing his gun on protesters who beat him with his own truncheon during the disturbance.
It is the second time in a week that Chinese officials have publicly likened the protests to terrorist activity.
Some observers believe the repeated use of such language suggests China is losing patience with the protesters, and could increase the likelihood of an intervention from Beijing.
However, most analysts consider that at this stage, a direct military intervention is still unlikely.
The former British colony has a special status, with its own legal system and judiciary, and rights and freedoms not seen in mainland China. However, many activists believe this is now under threat.
Millions of Hong Kong citizens have taken part in 10 weeks of anti-government protests, demanding democratic reform and an investigation into alleged police brutality. While many of the demonstrations were peaceful, an increasing number have ended in violent clashes with police.
The latest protest, an “occupation” of the airport, led to hundreds of flights being cancelled after protesters escalated their action, though normal service has mostly resumed.
But China seized on Tuesday’s brief outbreak of violence as evidence of “violent crimes” that “breached legal and moral bottom lines”.
What happened at the airport on Tuesday?
The airport had been the site of mostly peaceful protests since last Friday – but on Tuesday, protesters blocked travellers from accessing flights, using luggage trolleys to build barriers, and staging a mass sit-down.
Some protesters held signs apologising to passengers for the inconvenience caused by their demonstrations.
Two incidents, however, sparked clashes with police.
At least two men were set upon by protesters, accused of being undercover police officers – a fear prompted after the police admitted they had deployed officers disguised as anti-government protesters.
One man, who was tied up with zip ties, was later revealed to be a reporter for Chinese state media outlet the Global Times, Fu Guohao, though it is not clear if he had identified himself.
Appearing on state television in China the next day, Mr Fu said he “didn’t behave illegally or controversially. I don’t think I should be treated violently”.