When coups happen, the rebels usually try to secure the airport. So the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters who seized control of Hong Kong international airport had certainly made their point to the authorities – that mass protest is capable of paralysing this major hub, and that they can go further in their passionate defence of their limited freedoms. When the protesters managed to rumble a couple of undercover Hong Kong police officers and detain them temporarily, the danger of massive intervention by the authorities was at its height. Fortunately, the riot police exercised restraint, and they and the paramedics managed to retrieve their colleagues.

However, following this incident, the earlier invasion of the Legislative Council building, and the widespread disruption over recent weeks, the protesters should be careful that they do not succeed too well, and push Beijing into a corner it cannot escape from. This is in the sense that Beijing perceives that what is going on is in fact an attempt at a localised coup, and secession from the People’s Republic, which is something that it can never permit.

So it was predictable as well as ominous that lorry-loads of Chinese troops later arrived in the vicinity of the airport. No one can be sure of their intentions. It may be that it is a persuasive show of strength, designed to cool the ardour of the protesters and encourage them to go home, or at least carry on with their activities on the streets. Alternatively, it could be the precursor to a bloody suppression of what the Chinese are calling – tellingly – “terrorism”. 

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