A convoy of armed police has gathered in Shenzhen - the Chinese city neighbouring Hong Kong - as tensions between protestors and authorities in the special administrative region continue to rise.
Footage began to circulate on social media on Monday showing dozens of armoured trucks arriving into the city before gathering at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre – a stone’s throw from Shenzhen Bay which separates Hong Kong’s northwest from the mainland.
Alexandre Krauss, a senior political advisor at Renrew Europe, shared several clips of the convoy on Twitter saying “something extraordinarily bad is about to happen”.
Hong Kong protesters labelled terrorists
State media including the People’s Daily also shared similar footage however stated the arrival of the convoy was part of a military drill.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said in a statement on Monday that attacks on police in the escalating troubles in Hong Kong were clear “signs of terrorism”.
The increasingly violent protests have plunged the Chinese-ruled territory into its most serious crisis in decades, presenting Chinese leader Xi Jinping with one of his biggest popular challenges since he came to power in 2012.
The protests began in opposition to a bill allowing extradition to the mainland but have widened to highlight other grievances, drawing broad support and continuing weeks after Hong Kong chief Carrie Lam announced the suspension of the bill and the intention to withdraw it.
It is still unclear however whether Lam will have the power to do so. On Tuesday, she repeatedly ignored questions on the matter at a heated press conference.
The Chinese military, believing in the intel and these videos, have set in place a comprehensive military operation targeting the situation in #HongKong. #HongKongProtests #China #Democracy pic.twitter.com/QWFM11XYKC— Alexandre Krauss (@AlexandreKrausz) August 12, 2019
Social media was rife with speculation over the convoy’s purpose, with several Twitter users going as far as to suggest similar scenes to 1989’s Tiananmen Square crackdown were imminent.
However experts have downplayed their presence, saying the central government will only intervene if “large-scale” riots ensue and Hong Kong authorities summon them.
“If the situation does not reach that point, then this is only a deterrence measure, to deter these [small group of people] from stepping over the line,” Beijing-based military specialist Zhou Chenming told the South China Morning Post.
Dixon Sing Ming, a political-science professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, echoed Zhou’s sentiments saying the move was a “psychological warfare tactic” to deter protestors.
Hong Kong airport reopens after protests
Hong Kong's airport reopened on Tuesday following large-scale protests but its administrator has warned that flight movements will still be affected.
Despite the airport reopening, Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said it had cancelled over 200 flights to and out of the airport, according to its website.
The airport, one of the world's busiest, blamed demonstrators for halting flights on Monday, but the exact trigger for the closure was not clear as protesters occupying the arrivals hall for the past five days have been relatively peaceful.
Most protesters had left the airport shortly after midnight, with about 50 protesters still there on Tuesday morning.
"Hong Kong International Airport will implement flight rescheduling today with flight movements expected to be affected," said a notice published on the Hong Kong International Airport's official mobile app on Tuesday.
Cathay Pacific said it would only operate a limited number of flights for connecting passengers. Airport flight boards showed the likes of Emirates Airline and Virgin Australia had flights scheduled to depart on Tuesday.
China on Monday said protests in the Asian financial hub had reached a "critical juncture".
"Protesters have been frequently using extremely dangerous tools to attack the police in recent days, constituting serious crimes with sprouts of terrorism emerging," said Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office spokesman Yang Guang in Beijing.
Some Hong Kong legal experts say the official description of terrorism could lead to the use of anti-terror laws.
Protesters say police have used excessive force, firing tear gas and bean bag pellets at close range, and are calling for an independent inquiry into the crisis.
An independent investigation into the way police handled initial protests is one of protestors new requests.
Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the "one country, two systems" arrangement enshrining some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back from Britain in 1997.