- China’s army garrison in Hong Kong carried out “emergency response exercises” as protests continue to rock the semi-autonomous territory over a contentious extradition bill.
- According to Chinese state media, the military drills took place on June 26 and were carried out “with the goal of examining the troops’ combat capabilities.”
- The military arm also conducted a three-day open house from Saturday, where soldiers conducted “exercises in combat tactics” and displayed various firearms to the public.
- Chinese state media only published reports of the “emergency response exercises” on Tuesday, a day after violent clashes between protesters and police rocked the territory.
- China has stopped short of calling for military intervention in Hong Kong, though its military display was likely a reminder of its ability to step in and use force.
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China’s army garrison in Hong Kong carried out “emergency response exercises” last week as protests continue to rock the semi-autonomous territory over a contentious extradition bill.
Although Hong Kong maintains certain freedoms from China since it was passed on from Britain in 1997, the region has never had a military force of its own.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Hong Kong Garrison — composed of personnel from China’s navy, ground, and air forces — operates under the Hong Kong’s “Basic Law” and was established for the city’s “defense.”
According to the law, the garrison and Hong Kong’s government operate independently and are not subordinate to one another.
Though the garrison is “not to interfere in the local affairs of Hong Kong,” the Hong Kong government may ask the garrison to intervene “in the maintenance of public order and disaster relief.”
China’s Standing Committee can call on the garrison to act in the event that it decides Hong Kong is in a state of emergency.
The unit, headquartered in Hong Kong’s Central district, conducted “joint patrol exercises” on June 26, Chinese state media reported on Tuesday, featuring ground, naval and aerial forces.
According to the report, first published by the official Chinese army newspaper PLA Daily, the exercises were carried out “with the goal of examining the troops’ combat capabilities in terms of emergency response and joint operations.”
It added that the garrison also held a three-day open house from Saturday, where soldiers conducted “exercises in combat tactics.”
This included various public firearms displays, carried out in celebration of the 22nd anniversary of the territory’s return to China.
China’s Ministry of Defense said the event was attended by 20,000 Hong Kong residents.
While the garrison displayed its military might, hundreds of young protesters clashed with police on Monday. The protests culminated in the group storming the city’s legislative building and ransacking the chambers.
Pro-democracy lawmakers condemned the event, saying that the move was a “complete trap” by Hong Kong police looking to stir protesters into violent action, though officials denied that this was the case.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam hosted a press conference in the early hours on Tuesday, vowing to take action against unruly protesters.
China has been quick to paint those who charged through the legislative building as “extreme radicals” that threaten China’s authority and “jeopardize social order.” It urged Hong Kong to prosecute “criminals” involved in Monday’s unrest.
China stopped short of calling for military intervention, but the military drills were a timely reminder of Beijing’s power in the city.
A Chinese official told the South China Morning Post that Chinese state media’s decision to publish news of the military exercises on Tuesday — the day after Hong Kong protests reached fever pitch — was intentional, and sent a subtle warning to those who pose a threat.
Adam Ni, a researcher on Chinese foreign and security policy at the Australian National University, told SCMP that the goal of the drills was to send a “blatant message” about its ability to step in and use force when necessary.
“Basically it’s a clear ultimate message that if the Hong Kong government is unable to deal with the social tensions, then in the end, the PLA would have to be used.”