Hong Kong's new police commissioner told top Beijing officials on Saturday that his force would handle the ongoing anti-government protests with both "hard and soft" tactics - being tough on violence but flexible on minor offences.
Chris Tang Ping-keung made the remarks after he and his deputy met Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office under the State Council. Tang was on the second day of his first official visit to Beijing since taking office last month.
Tang said the top mainland official in charge of Hong Kong affairs "highly recognised" the efforts of the Hong Kong police over the past six months and would continue to support the force as it works to curb violence and restore order.
"I introduced the Hong Kong situation," Tang told the press after the meeting. "I told them that my strategy would use both hard and soft approaches. That is, we will strengthen (actions against) illegal violent acts such as the use of petrol bombs and arson."
He stressed that the tough approach had nothing to do with the potential deployment of People's Liberation Army soldiers and that Hong Kong police were still responsible for security in the city.
"But for other situations, such as protesters taking to the roads or other minor issues among youngsters, we will deal with it in a more humane and flexible way," Tang said.
Tang also met Guo Shengkun, secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission. State news agency Xinhua reported that Guo praised Hong Kong police for doing "a lot of effective work" to maintain law and order. He said stopping violence was the first priority.
"Follow the constitution and the Basic Law. We firmly support Hong Kong police in strictly enforcing the law, and fully support the force in restoring the city's law and order," he was quoted as saying.
Protests triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill have gripped the city since June. Radical protesters have vandalised and torched railway stations, major roads and university campuses. They have also targeted businesses with links to the mainland. Police have so far arrested at least 6,000 people.
On Friday, the first day of Tang's visit, Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi pledged the central government's "strongest support" to the Hong Kong police. He told Tang that ending the violence and restoring order were top priorities, and said he hoped that the new commissioner would lead the force with determination and uphold morale.
Tang on Saturday said he briefed mainland officials about Hong Kong's crime situation and the latest arrest figures from the protests, and introduced his new management team.
Responding to a survey showing police popularity at a record low, Tang said the results were related to fake news and smear campaigns directed at the force.
According to the poll by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, the police received 35.3 marks out of 100 - the lowest among all disciplinary forces - with 40 per cent of respondents giving the force zero marks.
"Believing such fake news would lead to a low credibility of the force," Tang said. "But surely we will also review whether we should be more transparent."
On the eve of Sunday's major protest march from Victoria Park to Chater Road, Tang appealed to protesters to stay peaceful. He repeated a government statement that urged the public to remain calm and peaceful as they express their views.
The government said it had "learned its lesson and will humbly listen to and accept criticism". The statement said the Hong Kong government hoped to work with the public to restore order.
Meanwhile, the Fire Services Department said it had found 340 litres of flammable liquid and 38 litres of corrosive acid across several hardware shops across the city over the past two days. The department said the amount exceeded the legal limit. It did not say if the inspection was related to Sunday's march.
In Beijing, Tang and his delegation attended the national flag raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square on Saturday morning. Speaking to mainland media after the event, Tang said he was thrilled to see the flag waving in the breeze, and felt the strength of the country.
"I was thankful for the arrangement and also the support by the country, especially the firm support to the Hong Kong police by President Xi Jinping," he said.
The force did not tell Hong Kong media about Tang's visit to Tiananmen Square.
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