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China President Xi Jinping's balancing act over Hong Kong

Hong Kong (CNN) Hong Kong's summer of discontent has spilled over into fall, bringing with it tear gas, petrol bombs and widespread transport disruptions -- all the elements that have divided the city during four months of unrest.

Observers had looked to China's National Day on October 1 as a potential turning point for the protests, and since then they've escalated withprotesters targeting businesses linked to mainland China.

The vandalism and violence poses a direct challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is not known for his tolerance of views that differ from the ruling Communist Party.

However, it is not clear if Beijing has a red line, and what it would take for protesters to cross it before provoking a Chinese military response.

Chinese military intervention in Hong Kong is still believed to be the last resort, as it would carry disastrous consequences for both the territory and mainland China.

But experts say the Hong Kong government's failed efforts to stop the protests by evoking emergency powers could move Hong Kong closer to a more aggressive response from Beijing.

Riot police shine lights at protesters outside Ma On Shan police station in the New Territories of Hong Kong on October 9.

Riot police shine lights at protesters outside Ma On Shan police station in the New Territories of Hong Kong on October 9.

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Hong Kong unrest

Riot police shine lights at protesters outside Ma On Shan police station in the New Territories of Hong Kong on October 9.

Supporters surround a police bus carrying political activist Edward Leung as it leaves the High Court in Hong Kong on October 9. Several hundred masked protestors gathered at Hong Kong's High Court for the appeal hearing of an activist sentenced to six years in prison for his part in a violent clash with police.

Supporters surround a police bus carrying political activist Edward Leung as it leaves the High Court in Hong Kong on October 9. Several hundred masked protestors gathered at Hong Kong's High Court for the appeal hearing of an activist sentenced to six years in prison for his part in a violent clash with police.

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Hong Kong unrest

Supporters surround a police bus carrying political activist Edward Leung as it leaves the High Court in Hong Kong on October 9. Several hundred masked protestors gathered at Hong Kong's High Court for the appeal hearing of an activist sentenced to six years in prison for his part in a violent clash with police.

Protesters smash up a branch of the Bank of China in the Tseung Kwan O residential neighborhood of Kowloon on October 7.

Protesters smash up a branch of the Bank of China in the Tseung Kwan O residential neighborhood of Kowloon on October 7.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters smash up a branch of the Bank of China in the Tseung Kwan O residential neighborhood of Kowloon on October 7.

A woman is treated after police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on October 7. Protesters arrested for defying a new face mask ban have appeared in court, following a violent weekend of unrest which saw bloody clashes with police and widespread vandalism.

A woman is treated after police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on October 7. Protesters arrested for defying a new face mask ban have appeared in court, following a violent weekend of unrest which saw bloody clashes with police and widespread vandalism.

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Hong Kong unrest

A woman is treated after police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on October 7. Protesters arrested for defying a new face mask ban have appeared in court, following a violent weekend of unrest which saw bloody clashes with police and widespread vandalism.

Riot police clear a street as protesters and pedestrians gathered near the Mong Kok police station in Hong Kong on October 7.

Riot police clear a street as protesters and pedestrians gathered near the Mong Kok police station in Hong Kong on October 7.

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Hong Kong unrest

Riot police clear a street as protesters and pedestrians gathered near the Mong Kok police station in Hong Kong on October 7.

Pro-democracy protesters gather in a shopping mall in the Sha Tin district in Hong Kong on October 7.

Pro-democracy protesters gather in a shopping mall in the Sha Tin district in Hong Kong on October 7.

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Hong Kong unrest

Pro-democracy protesters gather in a shopping mall in the Sha Tin district in Hong Kong on October 7.

A masked protestor holding a shield stops for a portrait in Hong Kong on October 6.

A masked protestor holding a shield stops for a portrait in Hong Kong on October 6.

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Hong Kong unrest

A masked protestor holding a shield stops for a portrait in Hong Kong on October 6.

Protesters vandalize the Cheung Sha Wan local government offices in Hong Kong on October 6.

Protesters vandalize the Cheung Sha Wan local government offices in Hong Kong on October 6.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters vandalize the Cheung Sha Wan local government offices in Hong Kong on October 6.

Rescue personnel check the bottom of a taxi after the driver allegedly drove onto the pavement, hitting protesters in Hong Kong on October 6.

Rescue personnel check the bottom of a taxi after the driver allegedly drove onto the pavement, hitting protesters in Hong Kong on October 6.

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Hong Kong unrest

Rescue personnel check the bottom of a taxi after the driver allegedly drove onto the pavement, hitting protesters in Hong Kong on October 6.

A China Construction Bank is seen vandalized in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong on October 6.

A China Construction Bank is seen vandalized in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong on October 6.

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Hong Kong unrest

A China Construction Bank is seen vandalized in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong on October 6.

Pro-democracy protesters set fires in the street in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong on October 6.

Pro-democracy protesters set fires in the street in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong on October 6.

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Hong Kong unrest

Pro-democracy protesters set fires in the street in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong on October 6.

People protest a ban against masks on Saturday, October 5, in Hong Kong.

People protest a ban against masks on Saturday, October 5, in Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong unrest

People protest a ban against masks on Saturday, October 5, in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong police detain a protester on October 5 on the streets.

Hong Kong police detain a protester on October 5 on the streets.

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Hong Kong unrest

Hong Kong police detain a protester on October 5 on the streets.

An anti-government protester stands near a fire on Friday, October 4.

An anti-government protester stands near a fire on Friday, October 4.

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Hong Kong unrest

An anti-government protester stands near a fire on Friday, October 4.

Protesters move a statue depicting a protester armed with gas mask, helmet and umbrella on the streets of Hong Kong on October 4.

Protesters move a statue depicting a protester armed with gas mask, helmet and umbrella on the streets of Hong Kong on October 4.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters move a statue depicting a protester armed with gas mask, helmet and umbrella on the streets of Hong Kong on October 4.

Protesters set a fire on October 4 at China Construction Bank.

Protesters set a fire on October 4 at China Construction Bank.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters set a fire on October 4 at China Construction Bank.

Riot police deploy tear gas on October 4 outside a restaurant during a protest in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong.

Riot police deploy tear gas on October 4 outside a restaurant during a protest in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong unrest

Riot police deploy tear gas on October 4 outside a restaurant during a protest in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong.

Protesters spray paint slogans on October 4 at the entrance to a tunnel.

Protesters spray paint slogans on October 4 at the entrance to a tunnel.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters spray paint slogans on October 4 at the entrance to a tunnel.

A fire is seen on October 4 in front of a store vandalized by protesters.

A fire is seen on October 4 in front of a store vandalized by protesters.

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Hong Kong unrest

A fire is seen on October 4 in front of a store vandalized by protesters.

A store is seen on October 4 after being vandalized by protesters.

A store is seen on October 4 after being vandalized by protesters.

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Hong Kong unrest

A store is seen on October 4 after being vandalized by protesters.

Pro-democracy demonstrators hold up their hands on October 4 to symbolize their five demands during a rally against a <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/04/asia/hong-kong-face-mask-ban-meeting-intl-hnk/index.html" target="_blank">government ban on protesters wearing face</a> masks in Hong Kong.

Pro-democracy demonstrators hold up their hands on October 4 to symbolize their five demands during a rally against a <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/04/asia/hong-kong-face-mask-ban-meeting-intl-hnk/index.html" target="_blank">government ban on protesters wearing face</a> masks in Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong unrest

Pro-democracy demonstrators hold up their hands on October 4 to symbolize their five demands during a rally against a government ban on protesters wearing face masks in Hong Kong.

Protesters throw petrol bombs at the gate to the Tsuen Wan police station on Wednesday, October 2, in response to the police's use of live ammunition during clashes with demonstrators in the Tsuen Wan district the previous day.

Protesters throw petrol bombs at the gate to the Tsuen Wan police station on Wednesday, October 2, in response to the police's use of live ammunition during clashes with demonstrators in the Tsuen Wan district the previous day.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters throw petrol bombs at the gate to the Tsuen Wan police station on Wednesday, October 2, in response to the police's use of live ammunition during clashes with demonstrators in the Tsuen Wan district the previous day.

Schoolmates of a <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/01/asia/hong-kong-oct-1-protests-escalation-intl-hnk/index.html" target="_blank">student who was shot in the chest by police</a> during violent pro-democracy protests on October 1 place their hands on their chests during a protest in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Schoolmates of a <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/01/asia/hong-kong-oct-1-protests-escalation-intl-hnk/index.html" target="_blank">student who was shot in the chest by police</a> during violent pro-democracy protests on October 1 place their hands on their chests during a protest in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

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Hong Kong unrest

Schoolmates of a student who was shot in the chest by police during violent pro-democracy protests on October 1 place their hands on their chests during a protest in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

A young protester was shot Tuesday, October 1, as violent protests erupted across Hong Kong on the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. The incident marked a major escalation in violence that could galvanize the protest movement in Hong Kong.

A young protester was shot Tuesday, October 1, as violent protests erupted across Hong Kong on the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. The incident marked a major escalation in violence that could galvanize the protest movement in Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong unrest

A young protester was shot Tuesday, October 1, as violent protests erupted across Hong Kong on the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. The incident marked a major escalation in violence that could galvanize the protest movement in Hong Kong.

Police detain an anti-government protester in Hong Kong, October 1. Thousands of black-clad protesters marched in central Hong Kong as part of multiple pro-democracy rallies Tuesday as the party celebrated its 70th year of rule.

Police detain an anti-government protester in Hong Kong, October 1. Thousands of black-clad protesters marched in central Hong Kong as part of multiple pro-democracy rallies Tuesday as the party celebrated its 70th year of rule.

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Hong Kong unrest

Police detain an anti-government protester in Hong Kong, October 1. Thousands of black-clad protesters marched in central Hong Kong as part of multiple pro-democracy rallies Tuesday as the party celebrated its 70th year of rule.

Black-clad protestors stand surrounded by smoke from tear gas shells on October 1.

Black-clad protestors stand surrounded by smoke from tear gas shells on October 1.

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Hong Kong unrest

Black-clad protestors stand surrounded by smoke from tear gas shells on October 1.

Marching anti-government protesters are seen through a window with peeled off posters on October 1.

Marching anti-government protesters are seen through a window with peeled off posters on October 1.

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Hong Kong unrest

Marching anti-government protesters are seen through a window with peeled off posters on October 1.

Police tackle and arrest pro-democracy protesters during clashes in Wan Chai on October 1.

Police tackle and arrest pro-democracy protesters during clashes in Wan Chai on October 1.

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Hong Kong unrest

Police tackle and arrest pro-democracy protesters during clashes in Wan Chai on October 1.

A protester is seen carrying rocks on a street in the Sha Tin district of Hong Kong on October 1. While events in Beijing were being held to mark the <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/01/world/gallery/china-70th-anniversary/index.html" target="_blank">70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China</a>, demonstrators rallied throughout Hong Kong as the pro-democracy movement enters its fourth month.

A protester is seen carrying rocks on a street in the Sha Tin district of Hong Kong on October 1. While events in Beijing were being held to mark the <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/01/world/gallery/china-70th-anniversary/index.html" target="_blank">70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China</a>, demonstrators rallied throughout Hong Kong as the pro-democracy movement enters its fourth month.

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Hong Kong unrest

A protester is seen carrying rocks on a street in the Sha Tin district of Hong Kong on October 1. While events in Beijing were being held to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China , demonstrators rallied throughout Hong Kong as the pro-democracy movement enters its fourth month.

Protesters react after police fired tear gas near the central government offices in the Admiralty area of Hong Kong on October 1.

Protesters react after police fired tear gas near the central government offices in the Admiralty area of Hong Kong on October 1.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters react after police fired tear gas near the central government offices in the Admiralty area of Hong Kong on October 1.

Pro-democracy protesters form a "Pepe the Frog" themed human chain in Hong Kong on Monday, September 30.

Pro-democracy protesters form a "Pepe the Frog" themed human chain in Hong Kong on Monday, September 30.

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Hong Kong unrest

Pro-democracy protesters form a "Pepe the Frog" themed human chain in Hong Kong on Monday, September 30.

A man is detained by Hong Kong police during a protest in the Causeway Bay shopping district on Sunday, September 29.

A man is detained by Hong Kong police during a protest in the Causeway Bay shopping district on Sunday, September 29.

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Hong Kong unrest

A man is detained by Hong Kong police during a protest in the Causeway Bay shopping district on Sunday, September 29.

Riot police arrive after protestors vandalize in Hong Kong on September 29.

Riot police arrive after protestors vandalize in Hong Kong on September 29.

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Hong Kong unrest

Riot police arrive after protestors vandalize in Hong Kong on September 29.

Passengers look out from a bus at a burning barricade lit by pro-democracy protesters during a gathering in front of Mong Kok police station on Sunday, September 22, in Hong Kong, China. Pro-democracy protesters have continued demonstrations across Hong Kong, calling for the city's Chief Executive Carrie Lam to immediately meet the rest of their demands, including an independent inquiry into police brutality, the retraction of the word riot to describe the rallies, and genuine universal suffrage, as the territory faces a leadership crisis.

Passengers look out from a bus at a burning barricade lit by pro-democracy protesters during a gathering in front of Mong Kok police station on Sunday, September 22, in Hong Kong, China. Pro-democracy protesters have continued demonstrations across Hong Kong, calling for the city's Chief Executive Carrie Lam to immediately meet the rest of their demands, including an independent inquiry into police brutality, the retraction of the word riot to describe the rallies, and genuine universal suffrage, as the territory faces a leadership crisis.

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Hong Kong unrest

Passengers look out from a bus at a burning barricade lit by pro-democracy protesters during a gathering in front of Mong Kok police station on Sunday, September 22, in Hong Kong, China. Pro-democracy protesters have continued demonstrations across Hong Kong, calling for the city's Chief Executive Carrie Lam to immediately meet the rest of their demands, including an independent inquiry into police brutality, the retraction of the word riot to describe the rallies, and genuine universal suffrage, as the territory faces a leadership crisis.

Pro-democracy protesters sing songs and chant slogans during a rally inside a shopping mall in Shatin on September 22.

Pro-democracy protesters sing songs and chant slogans during a rally inside a shopping mall in Shatin on September 22.

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Hong Kong unrest

Pro-democracy protesters sing songs and chant slogans during a rally inside a shopping mall in Shatin on September 22.

An anti-government protester throws a Molotov cocktail during a demonstration near Central Government Complex in Hong Kong on Sunday, September 15.

An anti-government protester throws a Molotov cocktail during a demonstration near Central Government Complex in Hong Kong on Sunday, September 15.

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Hong Kong unrest

An anti-government protester throws a Molotov cocktail during a demonstration near Central Government Complex in Hong Kong on Sunday, September 15.

A pro-China supporter, center, is escorted by police after confronting journalists in Hong Kong, on September 15.

A pro-China supporter, center, is escorted by police after confronting journalists in Hong Kong, on September 15.

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Hong Kong unrest

A pro-China supporter, center, is escorted by police after confronting journalists in Hong Kong, on September 15.

Pro-government and anti-government supporters chant against one another at a shopping mall in Hong Kong on Friday, September 13. The sign translates to "Stop violence and curb chaos; safeguard Hong Kong."

Pro-government and anti-government supporters chant against one another at a shopping mall in Hong Kong on Friday, September 13. The sign translates to "Stop violence and curb chaos; safeguard Hong Kong."

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Hong Kong unrest

Pro-government and anti-government supporters chant against one another at a shopping mall in Hong Kong on Friday, September 13. The sign translates to "Stop violence and curb chaos; safeguard Hong Kong."

Demonstrators hold up their cell phone lights as they form a human chain at the Peak, a tourist spot in Hong Kong, on September 13.

Demonstrators hold up their cell phone lights as they form a human chain at the Peak, a tourist spot in Hong Kong, on September 13.

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Hong Kong unrest

Demonstrators hold up their cell phone lights as they form a human chain at the Peak, a tourist spot in Hong Kong, on September 13.

Police escort an injured man after he attacked protesters outside Prince Edward station in Hong Kong on Friday, September 6.

Police escort an injured man after he attacked protesters outside Prince Edward station in Hong Kong on Friday, September 6.

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Hong Kong unrest

Police escort an injured man after he attacked protesters outside Prince Edward station in Hong Kong on Friday, September 6.

Protesters burn paper money to pay their respects to injured protesters.

Protesters burn paper money to pay their respects to injured protesters.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters burn paper money to pay their respects to injured protesters.

Protesters prepare to clash with police outside the Mong Kok police station on September 6.

Protesters prepare to clash with police outside the Mong Kok police station on September 6.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters prepare to clash with police outside the Mong Kok police station on September 6.

A protester is detained by police at the Po Lam Mass Transit Railway station on Thursday, September 5.

A protester is detained by police at the Po Lam Mass Transit Railway station on Thursday, September 5.

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Hong Kong unrest

A protester is detained by police at the Po Lam Mass Transit Railway station on Thursday, September 5.

A man watches televisions at a store in Hong Kong as Chief Executive Carrie Lam announces the withdrawal of the extradition bill on Wednesday, September 4.

A man watches televisions at a store in Hong Kong as Chief Executive Carrie Lam announces the withdrawal of the extradition bill on Wednesday, September 4.

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Hong Kong unrest

A man watches televisions at a store in Hong Kong as Chief Executive Carrie Lam announces the withdrawal of the extradition bill on Wednesday, September 4.

A woman gets emotional on September 4 while paying her respects to protesters who were injured a few days earlier.

A woman gets emotional on September 4 while paying her respects to protesters who were injured a few days earlier.

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Hong Kong unrest

A woman gets emotional on September 4 while paying her respects to protesters who were injured a few days earlier.

Demonstrators travel through a railway station during a rally on Tuesday, September 3.

Demonstrators travel through a railway station during a rally on Tuesday, September 3.

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Hong Kong unrest

Demonstrators travel through a railway station during a rally on Tuesday, September 3.

Students wearing gas masks and helmets hold a banner that reads "five major demands are indispensable" at St. Francis' Canossian College in Hong Kong.

Students wearing gas masks and helmets hold a banner that reads "five major demands are indispensable" at St. Francis' Canossian College in Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong unrest

Students wearing gas masks and helmets hold a banner that reads "five major demands are indispensable" at St. Francis' Canossian College in Hong Kong.

Protesters gather in the bus terminal at Hong Kong International Airport on Sunday, September 1. Hundreds of pro-democracy activists attempted to block transport routes to the city's airport.

Protesters gather in the bus terminal at Hong Kong International Airport on Sunday, September 1. Hundreds of pro-democracy activists attempted to block transport routes to the city's airport.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters gather in the bus terminal at Hong Kong International Airport on Sunday, September 1. Hundreds of pro-democracy activists attempted to block transport routes to the city's airport.

A passenger walks to the airport on September 1 as pro-democracy protesters blocked a road outside the airport.

A passenger walks to the airport on September 1 as pro-democracy protesters blocked a road outside the airport.

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Hong Kong unrest

A passenger walks to the airport on September 1 as pro-democracy protesters blocked a road outside the airport.

A protester uses a slingshot outside the Central Government Complex during clashes with police on Saturday, August 31. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters held an anti-government rally one day after several leading activists and lawmakers were arrested in a sweeping crackdown.

A protester uses a slingshot outside the Central Government Complex during clashes with police on Saturday, August 31. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters held an anti-government rally one day after several leading activists and lawmakers were arrested in a sweeping crackdown.

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Hong Kong unrest

A protester uses a slingshot outside the Central Government Complex during clashes with police on Saturday, August 31. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters held an anti-government rally one day after several leading activists and lawmakers were arrested in a sweeping crackdown.

Protesters light a Molotov cocktail on August 31.

Protesters light a Molotov cocktail on August 31.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters light a Molotov cocktail on August 31.

Police officers move forward during clashes with protesters on August 31.

Police officers move forward during clashes with protesters on August 31.

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Hong Kong unrest

Police officers move forward during clashes with protesters on August 31.

Protesters take cover as policemen fire blue-colored water on them. Blue dye can be used to stain and identify masked protesters.

Protesters take cover as policemen fire blue-colored water on them. Blue dye can be used to stain and identify masked protesters.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters take cover as policemen fire blue-colored water on them. Blue dye can be used to stain and identify masked protesters.

A surveillance camera is covered with white paint during protests.

A surveillance camera is covered with white paint during protests.

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Hong Kong unrest

A surveillance camera is covered with white paint during protests.

An overhead view shows protesters reacting after police fired tear gas on August 31.

An overhead view shows protesters reacting after police fired tear gas on August 31.

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Hong Kong unrest

An overhead view shows protesters reacting after police fired tear gas on August 31.

Pro-democracy activists Agnes Chow and Joshua Wong speak to the media after they were released on bail at the Eastern Magistrates Courts on Friday, August 30. They were arrested earlier the same day in a dragnet across Hong Kong.

Pro-democracy activists Agnes Chow and Joshua Wong speak to the media after they were released on bail at the Eastern Magistrates Courts on Friday, August 30. They were arrested earlier the same day in a dragnet across Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong unrest

Pro-democracy activists Agnes Chow and Joshua Wong speak to the media after they were released on bail at the Eastern Magistrates Courts on Friday, August 30. They were arrested earlier the same day in a dragnet across Hong Kong.

Protesters clash with police after a rally in Hong Kong's Tsuen Wan district on Sunday, August 25. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/25/asia/hong-kong-protest-aug-25-intl-hnk/index.html" target="_blank">It was one of the most violent nights</a> seen in Hong Kong since mass protests began in June.

Protesters clash with police after a rally in Hong Kong's Tsuen Wan district on Sunday, August 25. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/25/asia/hong-kong-protest-aug-25-intl-hnk/index.html" target="_blank">It was one of the most violent nights</a> seen in Hong Kong since mass protests began in June.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters clash with police after a rally in Hong Kong's Tsuen Wan district on Sunday, August 25. It was one of the most violent nights seen in Hong Kong since mass protests began in June.

A police officer aims a gun in front of a protester on August 25.

A police officer aims a gun in front of a protester on August 25.

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Hong Kong unrest

A police officer aims a gun in front of a protester on August 25.

Some protesters shine laser pointers at police lines on August 25.

Some protesters shine laser pointers at police lines on August 25.

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Hong Kong unrest

Some protesters shine laser pointers at police lines on August 25.

Protesters and police clash on Saturday, August 24.

Protesters and police clash on Saturday, August 24.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters and police clash on Saturday, August 24.

Protesters pick up bricks to be used as projectiles on August 24.<br />

Protesters pick up bricks to be used as projectiles on August 24.<br />

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Protesters pick up bricks to be used as projectiles on August 24.

Police retreat after clashing with protesters on August 24.

Police retreat after clashing with protesters on August 24.

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Hong Kong unrest

Police retreat after clashing with protesters on August 24.

People link hands as they gather at the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront on Friday, August 23. Protesters formed a human chain across Hong Kong in a show of solidarity.

People link hands as they gather at the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront on Friday, August 23. Protesters formed a human chain across Hong Kong in a show of solidarity.

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Hong Kong unrest

People link hands as they gather at the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront on Friday, August 23. Protesters formed a human chain across Hong Kong in a show of solidarity.

Cell phones shine from the top of Lion Rock on August 23.

Cell phones shine from the top of Lion Rock on August 23.

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Hong Kong unrest

Cell phones shine from the top of Lion Rock on August 23.

Protesters march under umbrellas on Sunday, August 18.

Protesters march under umbrellas on Sunday, August 18.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters march under umbrellas on Sunday, August 18.

Tens of thousands of protesters showed up in the streets on August 18.

Tens of thousands of protesters showed up in the streets on August 18.

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Hong Kong unrest

Tens of thousands of protesters showed up in the streets on August 18.

A protester participates in a march on Saturday, August 17. His eye is covered with red gauze, referencing a woman who was allegedly shot in the eye with a beanbag round during clashes between protesters and police.

A protester participates in a march on Saturday, August 17. His eye is covered with red gauze, referencing a woman who was allegedly shot in the eye with a beanbag round during clashes between protesters and police.

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Hong Kong unrest

A protester participates in a march on Saturday, August 17. His eye is covered with red gauze, referencing a woman who was allegedly shot in the eye with a beanbag round during clashes between protesters and police.

Protesters react after police fired tear gas to disperse a demonstration at the Sham Shui Po police station in Hong Kong on Wednesday, August 14.

Protesters react after police fired tear gas to disperse a demonstration at the Sham Shui Po police station in Hong Kong on Wednesday, August 14.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters react after police fired tear gas to disperse a demonstration at the Sham Shui Po police station in Hong Kong on Wednesday, August 14.

Protesters point lasers at the Sham Shui Po police station on August 14.

Protesters point lasers at the Sham Shui Po police station on August 14.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters point lasers at the Sham Shui Po police station on August 14.

A police officer falls over an airport luggage trolley during a scuffle with pro-democracy protesters on Tuesday, August 13. For two days, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/13/asia/hong-kong-airport-chaos-intl-hnk/index.html" target="_blank">protesters flooded the airport.</a> Check-ins were suspended and dozens of outgoing flights were canceled.

A police officer falls over an airport luggage trolley during a scuffle with pro-democracy protesters on Tuesday, August 13. For two days, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/13/asia/hong-kong-airport-chaos-intl-hnk/index.html" target="_blank">protesters flooded the airport.</a> Check-ins were suspended and dozens of outgoing flights were canceled.

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Hong Kong unrest

A police officer falls over an airport luggage trolley during a scuffle with pro-democracy protesters on Tuesday, August 13. For two days, protesters flooded the airport. Check-ins were suspended and dozens of outgoing flights were canceled.

Police use pepper spray to disperse protesters at the airport on August 13.

Police use pepper spray to disperse protesters at the airport on August 13.

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Hong Kong unrest

Police use pepper spray to disperse protesters at the airport on August 13.

Police and protesters clash at the airport on August 13. The violence came after Hong Kong's Airport Authority announced that all check-in services would be suspended for another night because of terminal operations being "seriously disrupted."

Police and protesters clash at the airport on August 13. The violence came after Hong Kong's Airport Authority announced that all check-in services would be suspended for another night because of terminal operations being "seriously disrupted."

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Hong Kong unrest

Police and protesters clash at the airport on August 13. The violence came after Hong Kong's Airport Authority announced that all check-in services would be suspended for another night because of terminal operations being "seriously disrupted."

A traveler passes her luggage to security guards as she tries to enter the departures gate.

A traveler passes her luggage to security guards as she tries to enter the departures gate.

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Hong Kong unrest

A traveler passes her luggage to security guards as she tries to enter the departures gate.

A display board shows canceled flights on August 13.

A display board shows canceled flights on August 13.

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Hong Kong unrest

A display board shows canceled flights on August 13.

Anti-government protesters stand at a barricade made of luggage trolleys during a demonstration at the airport on August 13.

Anti-government protesters stand at a barricade made of luggage trolleys during a demonstration at the airport on August 13.

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Hong Kong unrest

Anti-government protesters stand at a barricade made of luggage trolleys during a demonstration at the airport on August 13.

Medics look after a woman who received a facial injury during clashes on Sunday, August 11.

Medics look after a woman who received a facial injury during clashes on Sunday, August 11.

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Hong Kong unrest

Medics look after a woman who received a facial injury during clashes on Sunday, August 11.

A pro-democracy protester is held by police outside the Tsim Sha Tsui police station on August 11.

A pro-democracy protester is held by police outside the Tsim Sha Tsui police station on August 11.

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Hong Kong unrest

A pro-democracy protester is held by police outside the Tsim Sha Tsui police station on August 11.

Police fire tear gas at protesters during a demonstration in the Wong Tai Sin District on Monday, August 5.

Police fire tear gas at protesters during a demonstration in the Wong Tai Sin District on Monday, August 5.

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Hong Kong unrest

Police fire tear gas at protesters during a demonstration in the Wong Tai Sin District on Monday, August 5.

A train passenger gestures toward a protester, right, who was preventing the doors of a train from closing on August 5. The protester was trying to disrupt Hong Kong's morning rush-hour commute.

A train passenger gestures toward a protester, right, who was preventing the doors of a train from closing on August 5. The protester was trying to disrupt Hong Kong's morning rush-hour commute.

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Hong Kong unrest

A train passenger gestures toward a protester, right, who was preventing the doors of a train from closing on August 5. The protester was trying to disrupt Hong Kong's morning rush-hour commute.

A man lies down on an underground train during a protest on August 5.

A man lies down on an underground train during a protest on August 5.

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Hong Kong unrest

A man lies down on an underground train during a protest on August 5.

A man comforts his pregnant wife near a train platform after protesters blocked the train doors on August 5.

A man comforts his pregnant wife near a train platform after protesters blocked the train doors on August 5.

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Hong Kong unrest

A man comforts his pregnant wife near a train platform after protesters blocked the train doors on August 5.

A protester stands in tear gas during a confrontation with police in the early hours of Sunday, August 4.

A protester stands in tear gas during a confrontation with police in the early hours of Sunday, August 4.

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Hong Kong unrest

A protester stands in tear gas during a confrontation with police in the early hours of Sunday, August 4.

A Chinese flag floats in water after it was thrown by protesters during a demonstration on Saturday, August 3.

A Chinese flag floats in water after it was thrown by protesters during a demonstration on Saturday, August 3.

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Hong Kong unrest

A Chinese flag floats in water after it was thrown by protesters during a demonstration on Saturday, August 3.

A protester sprays paint on a wall on August 3.

A protester sprays paint on a wall on August 3.

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Hong Kong unrest

A protester sprays paint on a wall on August 3.

Members of Hong Kong's medical sector attend a protest in Edinburgh Place on Friday, August 2.

Members of Hong Kong's medical sector attend a protest in Edinburgh Place on Friday, August 2.

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Hong Kong unrest

Members of Hong Kong's medical sector attend a protest in Edinburgh Place on Friday, August 2.

The emblem on the China Liaison Office is protected by plexiglass during a demonstration on Sunday, July 28.

The emblem on the China Liaison Office is protected by plexiglass during a demonstration on Sunday, July 28.

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Hong Kong unrest

The emblem on the China Liaison Office is protected by plexiglass during a demonstration on Sunday, July 28.

A protester flees from baton-wielding police in the Yuen Long district of Hong Kong on Saturday, July 27.

A protester flees from baton-wielding police in the Yuen Long district of Hong Kong on Saturday, July 27.

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Hong Kong unrest

A protester flees from baton-wielding police in the Yuen Long district of Hong Kong on Saturday, July 27.

A protester looks through umbrellas during the clashes with police on July 27.

A protester looks through umbrellas during the clashes with police on July 27.

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Hong Kong unrest

A protester looks through umbrellas during the clashes with police on July 27.

Travelers watch as protesters rally at Hong Kong's international airport on Friday, July 26.

Travelers watch as protesters rally at Hong Kong's international airport on Friday, July 26.

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Hong Kong unrest

Travelers watch as protesters rally at Hong Kong's international airport on Friday, July 26.

Protesters clash with police on Sunday, July 21.

Protesters clash with police on Sunday, July 21.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters clash with police on Sunday, July 21.

Masked men in white T-shirts are seen after <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2019/07/23/asia/hong-kong-triad-arrests-intl-hnk/index.html" target="_blank">attacking anti-extradition bill demonstrators</a> at a train station in Yuen Long.

Masked men in white T-shirts are seen after <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2019/07/23/asia/hong-kong-triad-arrests-intl-hnk/index.html" target="_blank">attacking anti-extradition bill demonstrators</a> at a train station in Yuen Long.

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Hong Kong unrest

Masked men in white T-shirts are seen after attacking anti-extradition bill demonstrators at a train station in Yuen Long.

Medical workers help a protester affected by tear gas on July 21.

Medical workers help a protester affected by tear gas on July 21.

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Hong Kong unrest

Medical workers help a protester affected by tear gas on July 21.

The office of pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho was trashed by protesters in Hong Kong's Tsuen Wan district.

The office of pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho was trashed by protesters in Hong Kong's Tsuen Wan district.

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Hong Kong unrest

The office of pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho was trashed by protesters in Hong Kong's Tsuen Wan district.

Police officers use pepper spray to disperse protesters after a rally in the Sheung Shui district on Saturday, July 13.

Police officers use pepper spray to disperse protesters after a rally in the Sheung Shui district on Saturday, July 13.

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Hong Kong unrest

Police officers use pepper spray to disperse protesters after a rally in the Sheung Shui district on Saturday, July 13.

A demonstrator sprays paint inside a chamber at Hong Kong's Legislative Council building, where protesters forced their way in on Monday, July 1.

A demonstrator sprays paint inside a chamber at Hong Kong's Legislative Council building, where protesters forced their way in on Monday, July 1.

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Hong Kong unrest

A demonstrator sprays paint inside a chamber at Hong Kong's Legislative Council building, where protesters forced their way in on Monday, July 1.

The meeting hall of the Legislative Council is taken over by demonstrators on July 1.

The meeting hall of the Legislative Council is taken over by demonstrators on July 1.

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Hong Kong unrest

The meeting hall of the Legislative Council is taken over by demonstrators on July 1.

A protester smashes a window of the Legislative Council building.

A protester smashes a window of the Legislative Council building.

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Hong Kong unrest

A protester smashes a window of the Legislative Council building.

Columns of sunlight are cast on a crowd during the march on July 1.

Columns of sunlight are cast on a crowd during the march on July 1.

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Hong Kong unrest

Columns of sunlight are cast on a crowd during the march on July 1.

Helicopters carrying the flags of China and Hong Kong fly over demonstrators on July 1.

Helicopters carrying the flags of China and Hong Kong fly over demonstrators on July 1.

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Hong Kong unrest

Helicopters carrying the flags of China and Hong Kong fly over demonstrators on July 1.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Roy Kwong rallies demonstrators with a megaphone on July 1.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Roy Kwong rallies demonstrators with a megaphone on July 1.

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Hong Kong unrest

Pro-democracy lawmaker Roy Kwong rallies demonstrators with a megaphone on July 1.

A police officer uses pepper spray during a clash with protesters on July 1.

A police officer uses pepper spray during a clash with protesters on July 1.

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Hong Kong unrest

A police officer uses pepper spray during a clash with protesters on July 1.

A protester wearing a T-shirt with the word "revolution" walks past an inscription on a road that reads "Long Live HK."

A protester wearing a T-shirt with the word "revolution" walks past an inscription on a road that reads "Long Live HK."

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Hong Kong unrest

A protester wearing a T-shirt with the word "revolution" walks past an inscription on a road that reads "Long Live HK."

Police detain protesters near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 1.

Police detain protesters near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 1.

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Hong Kong unrest

Police detain protesters near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 1.

An overhead view shows thousands of protesters marching through a Hong Kong street on Sunday, June 16.

An overhead view shows thousands of protesters marching through a Hong Kong street on Sunday, June 16.

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Hong Kong unrest

An overhead view shows thousands of protesters marching through a Hong Kong street on Sunday, June 16.

Protesters run after police fired tear gas on Wednesday, June 12.

Protesters run after police fired tear gas on Wednesday, June 12.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters run after police fired tear gas on Wednesday, June 12.

Protesters face off with police during the rally on June 12.

Protesters face off with police during the rally on June 12.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters face off with police during the rally on June 12.

By the morning of June 12, tens of thousands of mainly young people had arrived in the area, blocking streets and bringing central Hong Kong to a standstill.

By the morning of June 12, tens of thousands of mainly young people had arrived in the area, blocking streets and bringing central Hong Kong to a standstill.

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Hong Kong unrest

By the morning of June 12, tens of thousands of mainly young people had arrived in the area, blocking streets and bringing central Hong Kong to a standstill.

A demonstrator holds a sign during the June 12 rally.

A demonstrator holds a sign during the June 12 rally.

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Hong Kong unrest

A demonstrator holds a sign during the June 12 rally.

Police officers charge toward protesters during clashes on Monday, June 10. It was a continuation of protests that started the day before.

Police officers charge toward protesters during clashes on Monday, June 10. It was a continuation of protests that started the day before.

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Hong Kong unrest

Police officers charge toward protesters during clashes on Monday, June 10. It was a continuation of protests that started the day before.

Protesters hold pictures of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Sunday, June 9.

Protesters hold pictures of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Sunday, June 9.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters hold pictures of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Sunday, June 9.

Protesters on June 9 waved placards and wore white -- the designated color of the rally. "Hong Kong, never give up!" some chanted.

Protesters on June 9 waved placards and wore white -- the designated color of the rally. "Hong Kong, never give up!" some chanted.

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Hong Kong unrest

Protesters on June 9 waved placards and wore white -- the designated color of the rally. "Hong Kong, never give up!" some chanted.

Students wear chains during a demonstration on Saturday, June 8.

Students wear chains during a demonstration on Saturday, June 8.

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Hong Kong unrest

Students wear chains during a demonstration on Saturday, June 8.

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Balancing act

Xi, who effectively made himself "president for life" by dropping presidential term limits in 2018, is China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

tough nationalist leader that's driving China to a more prosperous future.

He is set to convene a high-level Communist Party meeting later this month and will want to protect his image of atough nationalistleader that's driving China to a more prosperous future.

"He faces potentially embarrassing questions over Hong Kong as the situation is not under control after four months," said Willie Lam, adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "He cannot be appear to be weak, otherwise he will lose face."

For a few months, China embarked on a propaganda campaign and social media blitz to demonize the Hong Kong protesters. Now, all mention of the protests are blocked once again as a topic on social media in the mainland.

In reality, such a response could destabilize Hong Kong and China's economy, destroy Xi's global reputation and disrupt long-term plans for political and social assimilation of Hong Kong with the mainland.

"You can send in the troops but unless you suppress the protesters with overwhelming force then you're just going to require continued occupation," said Adam Ni, a China researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney.

Experts say armed intervention in Hong Kong would also provide political leverage for Xi's factional opponents

"There are political forces within the Chinese Communist Party that would like to see him slip up as a way to justify removing him as president for life," said Malcolm Davis, senior analyst in Defense Strategy and Capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Xi will also be thinking of cross-strait relations with Taiwan, which have only worsened since the Hong Kong protests began in June. While Taiwan has been self-ruled since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, Beijing has not given up its desire for reunification through political negotiations.

"There's no way that they are going to sign up to any peaceful negotiation with the Chinese, given what's happening in Hong Kong. So ultimately, Xi may be forced into a bigger risk with Taiwan as a result of what's happening," said Davis.

Economy

Analysts say if People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops or the paramilitary People's Armed Police cracked down in Hong Kong, the stock market and housing market would crash and a mass exodus would likely follow.

Hong Kong is an important global financial and business center, with foreign companies and investors seeing the city as a stable gateway to Asia.

Already, the protests are having an impact on Hong Kong's economy, but Chinese boots on the ground would seriously damage its image as a safe and open place to do business. Such instability caused by an armed intervention could prompt corporations to reconsider their investment in the city.

"It's possible that multinational companies, or companies listed on the Hong Kong stock market may think of moving to Singapore or another financial center in Asia Pacific," Lam said.

Chinese companies use the Hong Kong stock market to raise capital and many powerful Chinese elites who have invested heavily in Hong Kong would stand to lose huge amounts of money in the event of an economic collapse, Lam added.

About half of all the foreign direct investment into China last year came through Hong Kong. And a similar percentage of investment from China flowed into Hong Kong, according to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. The figures are in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

China is also fighting a bitter trade war with the US, dealing with a slowing economy, and the strains of building the Belt and Road Initiative -- Xi's signature global infrastructure policy that aims to build new trade routes linking China to Asia, Africa and Europe.

"Hong Kong is still the major place where the Chinese economy raises cash to finance its modernization programs," Lam said. "They want to raise more money and they need Hong Kong actually more than ever."

A bloody crackdown akin to the 1989 Tiananmen massacre would also damage China's image in the eyes of many in the region. Xi is risking sanctions and important diplomatic and economic relations being severed.

"Armed intervention in Hong Kong just adds to the narrative of a threatening China," Ni said.

Playing into Beijing's hand, however, is the power it holds over multinational companies afraid of losing lucrative business on the mainland. And Beijing has been quick to take punitive measures against companies that show support for the protests.

Police tackle and arrest  protesters during clashes in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district on October 1, 2019.

Police tackle and arrest  protesters during clashes in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district on October 1, 2019.

Police tackle and arrest protesters during clashes in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district on October 1, 2019.

'Can't go on forever'

The protests, now entering their 19th weekend, have become increasingly violent and destructive, particularly following Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's use of emergency powers on October 5 to ban face masks at public gatherings.

Police have also ramped up their response -- two protesters were shot with live ammunition on two separate occasions since October 1, marking a turning point in the four month-long civil unrest.

"They (Beijing) can't let this go on indefinitely. They can't let it continue to intensify," said Davis. "I think that we are in the stage now, where things are going to slide towards some sort of military or People's Armed Police intervention. And that could be a devastating situation for the protesters."

But no one knows where that line is. Analysts say it's still a question that Beijing is actively considering.

"It's smart not to state a clear red line because you are going to have to act on it to keep your credibility once that line has been breached. And there is every likelihood that protesters would actively seek to breach that line," Ni said.

That line could also be crossed if Beijing loses confidence in the Hong Kong government's ability to win the struggle, Ni added.

The Hong Kong government can request assistance from the Hong Kong PLA garrison "in the maintenance of public order and in disaster relief." Though analysts say China's paramilitary police -- the PAP -- who would be more likely to be deployed in Hong Kong as they are specifically trained to put down social unrest on the mainland.

A fire lit by protesters burns in the Sha Tin district of Hong Kong.

A fire lit by protesters burns in the Sha Tin district of Hong Kong.

A fire lit by protesters burns in the Sha Tin district of Hong Kong.

At a press conference Tuesday, Chief Executive Lam said she believes the Hong Kong government "should find the solutions ourselves," but that her government could still call on Beijing for assistance.

"No options should be ruled out," she said.

Using emergency powers is one way Xi and Lam can attempt to keep a firm hand on the situation, without resorting to boots on the ground.

While invoking the Emergency Ordinance Regulation to pass an anti-mask ban did nothing to quell the protests, it does allow police to make more arrests, said Lam, the Hong Kong politics expert.

"Overall, the order from Beijing is the Hong Kong government should apply the rules more stringently and make more arrests. And, if a sizable number of ringleaders are arrested then it will help the Lam administration to restore order sooner," he said.

Since the protests began, 2,363 people between the ages of 12 and 83 have been arrested, and 77 since the mask law came into effect, according to Hong Kong police.

Lam added that more draconian measures could be enacted under emergency powers, if protests continue to intensify.

But there is little sign protesters will stop any time soon and the mask ban has only added fuel to the fire. As far back as August, some radical protesters said they welcomed a crackdown and were "ready for it," no matter the costs to the city and potentially the movement itself.

"The fundamental contradiction here at the heart of this unfolding crisis is that, on the one hand you have Hong Kongers wanting to maintain Hong Kong's autonomy as promised when the territory was handed over to China by the UK. And on the other is Beijing's desire to tighten Hong Kong's institutions, reduce its autonomy and integrate it into PRC's political systems," Ni said.

Lam, the Hong Kong politics expert, said Xi will be hoping that public opinion will soon swing away from the protesters and the more hardcore elements of the movement, if the violence and vandalism further disrupt daily life.

    But if the waiting game doesn't pan out, Xi may be forced to put the future strength and stability of the party ahead of potentially severe economic consequences.

    "I don't see this ending peacefully, I don't see both sides, stepping back from the brink," China analyst Davis said.