TOKYO (AP) — Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Friday that ongoing protests in Hong Kong show the limitations of the territory's "one country, two systems" framework, and expressed concern that China might not tolerate a further escalation.
Mahathir, making a visit to Japan, said Beijing might use force to end the current impasse if it escalates or persists.
"I never thought that a country with two different systems can really work for any length of the time, and sure enough this has happened," Mahathir told an interview with NHK public television. "If they cannot handle this and this doesn't stop and the demands become more and more for autonomy or independence, then I think the Chinese will not tolerate that."
Massive protests since June have disrupted transportation links in Hong Kong and its international airport. The territory's leader announced two days ago that she was scrapping an extradition bill that triggered the demonstrations. But activists have vowed not to stop protesting until their other demands are met, including an independent probe into alleged police brutality against protesters, the unconditional release of those detained and greater democracy.
The proposed legislation would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China for trial, and many saw it as an example of the city's eroding autonomy since the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.
The protests have become increasingly violent in recent weeks. Hong Kong officials have said they can handle the unrest without the help of mainland security personnel.
The 94-year-old Mahathir, who returned as Malaysia's prime minister last year, was in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto on Friday to receive an honorary doctorate from Doshisha University and visit high-tech companies.