China warned the United States against meddling in its “internal affairs,” after the four days of peaceful demonstrations that have seen tens of thousands of people take over usually busy streets in Hong Kong as they demand Beijing grant free elections in the semi-autonomous city. China’s statement came as a response to the fact that in Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and said the U.S. supports the “highest possible degree of autonomy” in Hong Kong. He said he hopes Hong Kong authorities exercise restraint and allow the protesters to express their views peacefully.
Thousands of pro-democracy protesters thronged the streets of Hong Kong on Wednesday, some of them jeering National Day celebrations that marked the anniversary of the 1949 founding of Communist China.
“Leung Chun-ying must step down. If he doesn’t resign by tomorrow, we will step up our actions, such as by occupying several important government buildings,” Lester Shum, vice secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students said.
Nevertheless Hong Kong’s leader is reportedly willing to let pro-democracy demonstrations blocking large areas of the city go on for weeks if necessary. The Chinese authorities have been trying hard to contain the spread of pro-democracy sentiment, and have moved swiftly against scores of people after they shared articles and photographs about the demonstrations online.
In the biggest challenge to Beijing’s authority since China took control of the former British colony in 1997, thousands of demonstrators have clogged the streets demanding freer elections in Hong Kong.
On Wednesday, mainland travel agencies began suspending visas for group tours to Hong Kong, said the head of the city’s Travel Industry Council, Joseph Tung. Individual tour visas, which account for the majority of mainland visitors, appear unaffected, he added. For the protesters, catching the attention of mainland visitors is partly the point. In the early hours of Wednesday, demonstrators expanded their sit-in zone to the Tsim Sha Tsui district in Kowloon, which includes Canton Road and is home to dozens of luxury retailers including Fendi, Coach, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Louis Vuitton.
In the meantime, President Xi Jinping, who has acted harshly against any perceived threats to the Communist Party’s hold on power, vowed in a National Day speech to “steadfastly safeguard” Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.
The protests were triggered by Beijing’s recent decision that a committee of mostly pro-Beijing local elites must approve all candidates in the inaugural 2017 election for Hong Kong’s top post.