HONG KONG - China is condemning Monday's violent protests in Hong Kong as an outright "challenge" to the "one country, two systems" formula under which the autonomous city is ruled by the mainland.
Thousands of demonstrators used the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's reunification with China to break into the city's legislative building. Once inside, they roamed the hallways and defaced walls with spray paint and anti-Beijing graffiti. The break-in ended after riot police arrived on the scene and used tear gas to disperse the protesters.
A statement by the Chinese government's Hong Kong affairs office released through state-run media said the protests "tramples the rule of law... undermines Hong Kong's social order" and harms the city's "fundamental interests."
The brief seizure of the legislature was a stark contrast from earlier in the day, when hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers staged a peaceful march through the city's main streets.
While the protests coincided with the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover they were triggered by a controversial legislative bill that would allow for criminal extradition to China.
The bill ignited mass protests for most of the month of June, continuing after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said previously she would suspend the bill and apologized. The measure is set to expire next year with the legislative session, but Lam has failed to withdraw the bill permanently or meet other protest demands including an inquiry into police tactics at a violent demonstration on June 12.
Concern is growing in Hong Kong that the city is steadily losing its autonomy to China, promised until 2047 under the handover agreement reached with former colonial ruler Britain. Citizens are currently protected by the Basic Law, a set of civil and political rights considered Hong Kong’s mini constitution.
The extradition debate has seen the government unwittingly reignite Hong Kong’s protest movement, and calls for the direct election of its leader, five years after 2014’s so-called Umbrella Movement democracy protests came to an end.