Wed, Jul 10, 2019 - Page 5 News List

HONG KONG: PLA signals it will keep HK garrison in barracks

HIGH THRESHOLD:Chinese laws allow Beijing to deploy the troops under certain conditions, but experts said that was unlikely, as that would mean they have ‘lost control’

Reuters, HONG KONG and WASHINGTON

A boy affixes a piece of paper to a wall covered in notes against a proposed extradition bill at Tai Po Market Station in Hong Kong’s northern New Territories yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

The Chinese military commander responsible for Hong Kong has assured a Pentagon official that Chinese troops would not interfere in the territory’s affairs — an apparent signal that they will stay in their barracks amid renewed political upheaval.

Trucks full of white-gloved Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers rolled into Hong Kong within hours of Britain handing its colony back to Chinese rule in 1997, sparking anxiety and raising lingering questions about their role.

Major General Chen Daoxiang (陳道祥) was speaking at the start of a meeting last month with US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs David Helvey, people briefed on the discussion said.

Helvey on June 13 met Chen on a courtesy call at the PLA’s Hong Kong headquarters — just meters from where a day earlier police clashed violently with protesters seeking to prevent the passage of a now-suspended bill that would allow people to be extradited to China for trial.

Protests and violence have continued since, including some activists smashing their way into the Hong Kong Legislative Council on Monday last week, daubing the debating chamber in graffiti.

“Major General Chen made it clear from the outset that the PLA would not breach their long-standing principle of noninterference in Hong Kong affairs,” one source briefed on the discussions told reporters.

“It was surprising, because he took it upon himself to raise it. It was a clear signal, coming at a sensitive time,” the source said.

A US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Chen and a senior Pentagon official met.

“Major General Chen did mention that during a conversation last week,” the US defense official said. “I can’t provide any more context to the conversation in that it was private, between the two leaders.”

A source with ties to the Chinese military said that there were no plans for PLA involvement at the moment.

“This is a Hong Kong matter for the Hong Kong government to resolve,” said the source, who meets regularly with senior officers.

The Chinese Ministry of National Defense and the PLA’s Hong Kong garrison did not respond to requests for comment.

The role of the PLA in Hong Kong has long been one of the most sensitive elements of the handover — and a presence closely watched by activists and foreign diplomats.

Some in the territory fear that the troops could be unleashed to quell violence, but police chiefs have insisted that their forces are capable of maintaining order.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule with a guarantee of its freedoms, including the right to protest and an independent judiciary not enjoyed in China, for at least 50 years. Under its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, defense and foreign affairs are managed by Chinese Communist Party leaders in Beijing.

The Basic Law states that Hong Kong may request the garrison troops’ assistance to maintain public order, but “they shall not interfere in local affairs.” They must abide by local laws, which are governed by the independent judiciary.

Chinese laws allow for the Chinese National People’s Congress’ Standing Committee to deploy the garrison if a state of war or emergency is declared for Hong Kong, citing “turmoil” threatening national security that is “beyond the control of the [Hong Kong] government.”

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