HONG KONG — China’s Ministry of National Defense reminded Hong Kong residents Wednesday that the People’s Liberation Army could mobilize to “maintain social order” at the request of the island's government.
The statement serves as a warning to protesters who defaced China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Sunday, at the end of yet another mass march against an extradition bill that could allow the Communist Party to undermine the island's independent judiciary.
China’s patience with protestors is wearing thin: The foreign ministry blamed the U.S. for meddling in Hong Kong, and CCTV, the government-run broadcaster, spent nearly a third of its Monday-evening broadcast admonishing the “radical demonstrators” who vandalized the liaison office.
Nowhere did their primetime broadcast mention a group of around 100 thugs who stormed a subway station in Yuen Long, assaulting people with wooden sticks and iron signs as they returned home from the protests downtown. At least 45 people were injured in the attacks.
“The train was still here and not moving, so we were stuck inside,” Tommy Tse, a protestor and witness to the violence, told VICE News. “Those white-shirt, violent people were attacking the people in the train. Most of the people in the train were just regular residents, including some elderly and women.”
The rampaging thugs are believed to be members of Hong Kong’s notorious Triads, a mafia-like network of gangs. Police took more than an hour to respond to the attacks, and arrested six men the next day, some of whom had Triad backgrounds, on charges of unlawful assembly.
“Our confidence in the police has totally collapsed.” Tse told VICE News. “When people needed them, they were nowhere to be found.”
It’s not the first time Triads have assaulted pro-democracy protesters. During the 2014 Umbrella Revolution, police arrested 19 individuals, some with links to triads, for inciting violence.
“It seems like a carbon copy of 2014,” Dr. Federico Varese, a professor at the University of Oxford, who investigated triad violence on the pro-democracy movement, told VICE News. “I would speculate that these people were paid.”
The mob targeted a station closer to Mainland China, in a region where land is cheaper and developers are competing to build huge complexes.
“I think the key is in the New Territories. This is an area where there is a lot of land speculation and a lot of shady deals. So if the government is threatened, those shady deals also would be threatened.” Varese told VICE News.
“The most likely scenario was that there were some business interests who thought that by doing so, they would do a favor to China, a favor to the Hong Kong government, and mobilized the thugs.”
This segment originally aired July 23, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.