China’s government strongly backed Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s embattled administration on Tuesday, saying the occupation and vandalizing of Hong Kong’s legislature by pro-democracy protesters amounted to “serious illegal acts” that endangered the social order.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said Beijing condemned the violence by several hundred demonstrators who broke through glass and steel barriers to enter the building on Monday night.

Geng said China’s central government strongly supported Hong Kong’s government and its police force in dealing with the incident in accordance with law.

“The violent attacks … are serious illegal acts that trample on the rule of law and endanger social order. We strongly condemn it,” Geng told reporters at a daily briefing.

Watch as protesters in Hong Kong smash glass, storm legislature

Hong Kong protesters smashed reinforced glass and stormed the Legislative Council on the anniversary of the city’s 1997 return to Chinese rule amid anger over a now-suspended extradition bill. 0:36

Geng also reiterated China’s rejection of any foreign nation commenting on or intervening in protest actions in Hong Kong, saying such matters were a purely Chinese affair and other countries “must not support any violent criminals in any form, and not send any misleading signals or take any erroneous actions.”

The cabinet’s Hong Kong affairs office issued virtually an identical statement under the name of an unidentified spokesperson.

Geng’s comments follow the publication of an editorial by a ruling Chinese Communist Party newspaper that said the demonstrators who broke into the local legislature showed their “arrogance” and had no regard for the rule of law.

Beijing trying to downplay demonstrations

Chinese state media ran footage of police in Hong Kong clearing protesters from streets in the early hours of Tuesday in a break with their silence over days of pro-democracy demonstrations that have challenged Beijing’s authority over the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

Beijing has largely sought to downplay the demonstrations, which have highlighted doubts about the validity of its “one-country, two-systems” formula for governing the former British colony. Its coverage of the protests and the publication of a harsh editorial in the official Communist Party newspaper Global Times may indicate it is prepared to take a tougher line against the demonstrators following days of forbearance.

“These violent assailants in their arrogance pay no heed to Hong Kong’s law, no doubt arousing the anger and sadness of all people of the city of Hong Kong,” the editorial said.

A defaced Hong Kong emblem is seen inside the city’s Legislative Council building. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

Veteran opposition figure Joshua Wong acknowledged the damage to the legislative offices has drawn criticism from some sectors in the Asian financial hub. But he said mass participation in marches and rallies over previous weeks showed there was a groundswell of support for the demonstrators’ goals of demanding more accountability from Lam’s administration.

“I understand people in Hong Kong and around the world might not 100 per cent agree or disagree on all of the behaviour of protesters … but all of the requests have been ignored. So is there any way out?” Wong said.

Lam is “not capable as leader anymore” and should resign, Wong said, echoing the demand of many protesters. Having been elected by a Beijing-approved committee, Lam is reliant on continuing support from Beijing, which has shown no outward signs of abandoning her so far.

Wong also alleged police officers had “double standards” in enforcing the law, saying pro-Beijing legislators and their staff members have benefited by better treatment than their opposition counterparts throughout the weeks of protest outside the legislature.

On the mainland, Beijing had sought to suppress news of the protests, which roughly coincided with celebrations of the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule. The demonstrations reflect mounting frustration with Lam and her government for not responding to demands from opposition figures that were originally sparked by a government attempt to change extradition laws, to allow suspects to be sent to China for trial. Lam has shelved the bills, but has not agreed to scrap them altogether as opponents insist she does.

Calls for Lam’s resignation

The extradition proposal has heightened fears of eroding freedoms in Hong Kong, which Britain returned to China on July 1, 1997. Debate on the measure has been suspended indefinitely. Protesters want the bills formally withdrawn and Lam to resign.

Lam, who has come under criticism for trying to push the legislation through, called a rare pre-dawn news conference with security officials Tuesday at police headquarters. She noted two different protests happened Monday — one a generally orderly march that reflected Hong Kong’s inclusiveness, the other using vandalism and violence.

“This is something we should seriously condemn.”

Protesters want the extradition bills formally withdrawn for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to resign. (Vincent Yu/Associated Press)

Lam disputed protesters’ complaints that officials had not responded to them, saying the government explained that by suspending the bill with no timetable or plan to revisit it, the legislation would die at the end of the current legislative session in July 2020.

For the other demands, she said, releasing arrested protesters without an investigation would not uphold the rule of law.

Surveying damage to the building on Tuesday morning, Legislative Council head Andrew Leung said the previous night’s violence had undermined “the core values of Hong Kong.” He said police were collecting evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Andrew Leung, president of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, looks at damaged glass panels on Tuesday after Monday’s unrest. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

“I believe many Hong Kong people will share the same feeling with me that we are saddened by what happened last night. For the best interest of Hong Kong, I hope that all of us can find the way forward professionally.”

While the extradition bills, and police use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters have drawn expressions of concern from professional groups and foreign governments, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said Tuesday it supported Lam’s government in condemning the violence at the legislature.

“We believe the violent protests of recent days do not reflect how the majority of people in this dynamic and advanced economy would choose to be heard,” the chamber said in an emailed statement.