China yesterday issued a stark reminder that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could be deployed in Hong Kong if the authorities requested support in maintaining “public order” after weeks of sometimes violent protests.
Hong Kong has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history after millions of demonstrators took to the streets — and sporadic violent confrontations between police and pockets of hardcore protesters.
The demonstrations were triggered by a controversial bill which would have allowed extraditions to the mainland, but have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms.
Beijing has labeled the protests as “extreme illegal violence,” but has left it to the territory’s semi-autonomous government to deal with the situation.
Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesman Colonel Wu Qian (吳謙) said at a news conference in Beijing that the ministry has been “paying close attention” to the situation in Hong Kong.
Asked how his ministry would handle the situation in the territory, Wu said that there are “clear stipulations” in Article 14 of Hong Kong’s garrison law — without elaborating.
According to the article, the Hong Kong authorities may ask, “when necessary,” the central government for assistance from the garrison “in the maintenance of public order and in disaster relief.”
It was the first time Beijing has publicly referred to the possibility of deploying the PLA to deal with the unrest in Hong Kong.
The PLA has maintained a garrison in Hong Kong since the former British colony was returned to China in 1997, but its troops generally keep a low profile and are rarely seen in uniform in public.
The rare public reminder comes days after anti-government protesters vandalized the walls of the Chinese representative’s office in Hong Kong and defaced the national emblem — an act that left Beijing fuming.
“The actions of some radical demonstrators challenged the authority of the central government and touched upon the bottom line of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle,” Wu said. “This is absolutely intolerable.”
The Hong Kong Government on Tuesday dismissed online “rumors” that the PLA had been deployed to guard key administrative offices linked to Beijing — including the vandalized liaison’s office.
Earlier this month, an army-linked Chinese newspaper ran photographs of a military drill — by then a week old — by its garrison in Hong Kong, a move analysts described as a warning to Beijing’s critics.
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