Never since Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 has Beijing intervened so robustly in the affairs of its protectorate. This lends a new dimension to the violence that has roiled the island nation for the past few days, “causing Hong Kong to slide into a dangerous abyss”, to summon the assessment of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, which reports directly to China’s cabinet. In the face of the renewed confrontation, which has turned out to be more furious than the Umbrella movement of 2014, Beijing has warned that the protesters will be “punished” and has refused to rule out military intervention. More accurately, China’s conflict in Hong Kong will be of a very different nature altogether; the “military intervention” might intrinsically be an operation against the people, who for quite some time have been seething over the extradition bill, which incidentally has been kept in abeyance by Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam. While the bill had ignited the conflagration, the subsequent assurance by the authorities has scarcely been able to douse the flames.

The Chinese government has let it be known that it will never allow any acts that challenge national unity, sovereignty or security. The statement has been couched with a warning to Hong Kong’s citizens that the People’s Liberation Army was a “strong and reliable force that defends every inch of its territory.” That signal of intent can be contextualised with the stout reiteration that “Hong Kong is a part of China”. Trashed in the process is the spirited chant of the protesters, “Reclaim Hong Kong ~ revolution of our times.”

Developments over the past 48 hours would suggest that the dispute between the citizens and the tiny island nation’s establishment has boiled down to a confrontation between China ~ with an omnipotent military and a President-for-life in Xi Jinping ~ and the disaffected people of its protectorate.

This is the long and the short of Beijing’s intervention, if still short of a war as it has threatened. In this war of attrition and woefully unequal wherewithal, there can be no winners or losers. Hong Kong will be on the boil if the fundamental irritants, with the potential to implode, are not addressed.

But the crisis must of necessity be staved off in the interest of regional peace and stability. It redounds to the credit of Ms Lam that she did try to defuse the crisis by putting the bill on hold. It is imperative, therefore, for the protesters to hold their fire not the least in the context of China’s accusation that its flag had been desecrated twice and thrown into the ocean twice in as many days. A similar restraint can also be expected of China, whose hold over its protectorate has been exceptionally strong