Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam warned Tuesday the Chinese military could step in if an uprising for democratic reforms in the city worsens, but she reiterated the government still hopes to resolve the crisis on its own without seeking mainland intervention.
Lam urged foreign critics to accept the reality that the four months of protests marked by a sharp escalation in violence was no longer "a peaceful movement for democracy."
“This kind of violence has become limitless and lawless,” Lam told reporters before a meeting of the city’s Executive Council, according to Bloomberg. Hong Kong government “will use its greatest determination to halt these violent acts,” she said.
Speaking at the White House Monday, President Trump warned Beijing that U.S.-Chinese trade talks would suffer if the mainland does anything to squash Hong Kong protests as long as demonstrators carry on in a peaceful manner.
Lam on Friday evoked emergency powers to ban protesters from wearing masks in a hardening of the government's stance on the territory's most disruptive crisis since it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997. Analysts warned the use of the Emergency Ordinance for the first time in over half a decade set a dangerous precedent. The law, a relic of British rule enacted in 1922 to quell a seamen strike and last used to crush riots in 1967, gives broad powers to the city's chief executive to implement regulations in an emergency.
The mask ban followed widespread violence in the city Tuesday that marred China's National Day and included a police officer shooting a protester, the first victim of gunfire since the protests started in June over a now-shelved extradition bill. The wounded teenager was charged with attacking police and rioting.
“I still strongly feel that we should find the solution ourselves,” Lam told reporters Tuesday. “That’s also the position of the central government that Hong Kong should tackle the problem on our own. But if the situation becomes so bad, then no option should be ruled out if we want Hong Kong to at least have another chance.”
“We are faced with such a changing situation,” Lam continued. “What I can assure you is the government will take a very serious view and very careful assessment before the ERO is to be invoked again.”
The movement has since snowballed into an anti-China campaign amid anger over what many view as Beijing's interference in Hong Kong's autonomy. More than 1,750 people have been detained so far. The government last month withdrew the extradition bill, widely slammed as an example of the erosion of Hong Kong's freedom, but protesters have widened their demands to include direct elections for the city's leaders, an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, the unconditional release of protesters and not characterizing the protests as riots.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.