China's top diplomat has accused the United States and other Western nations of "fanning the flames" of street protests in Hong Kong that aim to undermine the semi-autonomous region's prosperity, stability and security.
State Councillor Yang Jiechi told state media that the Western governments had been arranging meetings between top officials and protest leaders and encouraging them in actions.
"It must be pointed out that the US and some other Western governments ... are constantly fanning the flames of the situation in Hong Kong," Yang was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.
"China expresses its strong indignation and firm opposition ... and demands they immediately cease interfering in Hong Kong affairs in any form."
Yang's remarks follow statements earlier this week by a former Hong Kong official that the US and self-governing democratic Taiwan were behind the unrest, sparked originally by Hong Kong's now-suspended attempt to push through legislation that could send criminal suspects to mainland China.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other Chinese officials and diplomats have made similar accusations, while the head of the police union was quoted by Chinese media as calling for an investigation into the alleged US role in the protests.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week described the claim of an American guiding hand directing the protests as "ludicrous on its face".
"I think the protests are solely the responsibility of the people of Hong Kong, and I think they are the ones that are demanding that their Government listen to them and hear their voices," Pompeo said.
Asked about the protests on Thursday, US President Donald Trump echoed Beijing in labelling them "riots" and indicated the US would stay out of a matter he considered to be "between Hong Kong and China".
Western governments and rights organisations have consistently issued statements expressing concern about the extradition bill — which could expose suspects to torture and unfair trials in China — and violence between police and protesters.
Beijing has told them to stop interfering, saying Hong Kong matters were purely a Chinese affair.
Beijing has a long history of blaming unrest on shadowy foreign anti-China forces, including in the 1989 pro-democracy protests centred on Beijing's Tiananmen Square that were bloodily suppressed by the military, and during an earlier round of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2014. That feeds into a narrative widely followed by mainland Chinese that the West and especially the US is trying to contain and suppress their country's rise to economic and diplomatic prominence by sowing internal social and political discord.
Protesters plan to return to the streets again this weekend, angered by the Government's refusal to answer their demands, violent tactics used by police — possibly in co-ordination with organised crime figures — and the arrest of 44 people this week on rioting charges, which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.
In the latest action, hundreds of finance workers participated in a Hong Kong flash mob on Thursday night, chanting "Hong Kong keep going" and calling for support for a city-wide strike planned for Monday.
"I think young people should have more opportunity to speak up and the Government should have listened to them because young people are the future pillars of our society," said Peggie Wong, 42, who works in public finance.
A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 on the principle of "one country, two systems". The framework promises Hong Kong certain democratic freedoms not afforded to the mainland.
In recent years, however, Hong Kong residents have complained that Beijing is increasingly encroaching on their freedoms, providing an undercurrent of distrust to the protest movement, especially among students and young workers.
As the movement has progressed, both protesters and police have at times resorted to violence.