It is “only a matter of time” before protesters in Hong Kong face punishment, a Chinese official has warned.
Yang Guang, spokesman for the Chinese cabinet, warned protesters on Tuesday to not “play with fire” and mistake Beijing’s restraint for weakness.
Hong Kong has suffered weeks of sometimes violent protests that began with opposition to a now-suspended extradition law.
Mr Yang indicated Beijing will take a hard line against the protests and has no plans to open a dialogue on their demands for political reforms.
He singled out “brazen, violent and criminal actors” and the “meddling hands behind the scenes” as the focus law enforcement efforts.
He added: “As for their punishment, it’s only a matter of time.”
Mr Yang also called on Hong Kong citizens to turn on the protesters by refusing to accept their promotional materials and opposing disruptions to public transport.
Mr Yang’s comments follow a weekend of violent clashes between protesters and authorities, with police deploying tear gas, rubber bullets and other crowd control measures.
Protesters condemned what they called the government’s “empty rhetoric” during a press briefing aimed at countering the official narrative around the demonstrations.
At the so-called People’s Press Conference, protesters alleged police abuse and said some officers had shown “total lack of self-discipline”.
One activist using the pseudonym Jerry Chan said tear gas was fired on residential buildings during clashes across several districts on Monday.
According to a statement by Mr Yang and another government official, Xu Luying, 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”.
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,” the office said.
Protesters have waged war with China’s chief executive Carrie Lam’s administration since a controversial extradition bill was announced which would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial.
Those opposing the bill believe it would restrict Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms and could lead to unfair trials.
Ms Lam claimed the extradition bill was “dead”, but her critics argue it has not been formally withdrawn.
The recent protests are the greatest political threat to Hong Kong’s government since the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997. It is also one of the biggest popular challenges Chinese leader Xi Jinping has faced since coming into power in 2012.