Radical protesters in Hong Kong must not mistake China's restraint for weakness, China's Hong Kong affairs office said on Tuesday, vowing that the "violent criminals" pushing the city toward a "dangerous abyss" would be brought to justice.
Hong Kong has suffered weeks of sometimes violent protests that began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition law that would have allowed suspects to be tried in mainland courts.
But the protests have swelled into a broader backlash against the government of the Asian financial hub and its political masters in Beijing.
"I would like to warn all of the criminals: don't ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness," the Chinese government's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said in a document issued during a briefing in Beijing.
A small group of violent radicals were at the forefront of the protests, with "some kind-hearted citizens who have been misguided and coerced to join" in the middle, the document, attributed to representatives Yang Guang and Xu Luying, said.
It said anti-China forces were the "behind-the-scenes masterminds" who had "openly and brazenly emboldened" the protesters.
"We would like to make clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them: those who play with fire will perish by it."
It added, "At the end of the day, they will eventually be punished."
Police on Monday fired tear gas at protesters in the former British colony after a general strike hit transport and the city's Beijing-backed leader warned its prosperity was at risk.
The protests surpassed earlier shows of dissent in scale and intensity, seemingly stoked by Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam's refusal once again to meet any of the protesters' demands, while warning of an extremely dangerous situation.
The protests are the greatest political threat to Hong Kong's government since the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and one of the biggest popular challenges to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.