You are on page 1of 5

Insight - Chinese troops play symbolic role in

Hong Kong drama over democracy

Policemen stand in front of a tent set up by pro-democracy protesters with a banner supporting students, blocking a main road at
Mongkok shopping district in Hong Kong ctober !, "#$%&
KONG Sun Oct 5, 2014
'(euters) - Ma*or +eneral ,an -enhong, the commander of the People.s /iberation
0rmy in Hong Kong, was a picture of uniformed calm as he shared champagne toasts
with Chinese officials on 1ednesday at local celebrations marking China.s national
,he streets surrounding the bash at the Hong Kong Convention Centre presented a
starkly different scene as thousands of protesters escalated the most sustained push for
full democracy since China took Hong Kong back from -ritain in $223&
0s the protests enter their second week amid fresh signs of street violence, some
demonstrators and ordinary Hong Kong citi4ens fear ,an.s troops could eventually be
ordered to crush a movement unthinkable on the mainland&
,horny political, legal and strategic realities make any such involvement of the P/0
e5ceptionally difficult, however, and Hong Kong.s "3,###-strong police force is
e5pected to remain in charge for the time being&
+overnment advisers and e5perts believe leaders in both -ei*ing and Hong Kong
understand the immense political costs of ordering the P/0 out of their barracks,
ending at a stroke Hong Kong.s vaunted autonomy under the 6one country-two
systems6 formula under which -ritain agreed to hand over the 0sian financial hub&
7oreign diplomats are monitoring developments closely, noting moves in recent
months to upgrade P/0 facilities in Hong Kong and unconfirmed reports of anti-riot
drills being staged at both urban and rural bases&
,he garrison comprises between 8,### to $#,### personnel, mostly infantry troops,
spread between bases across the border in 9hen4hen and in Hong Kong, envoys
estimate& It includes a small naval and air-force attachment&
6I think that 'Hong Kong) policymakers at the highest level &&& are fully aware in that if
the P/0 were deployed, in the eyes of the world it would be the end of one country-two
systems,6 (egina Ip, an adviser to embattled Hong Kong leader /eung Chun-ying and
a former security chief, told (euters&
6It would cause tremendous damage,6 she said, noting that the local government
officials had repeatedly stressed that local police - e:uipped with paramilitary anti-riot
units - were fully capable of dealing with the unfolding situation&
0 Hong Kong-based mainland security academic said he believed -ei*ing was also
acutely aware of the risks of using the P/0 in Hong Kong&
6I am sure the leadership in -ei*ing knows that any such involvement would involve
massive political costs,6 he said, speaking on condition of anonymity given the
sensitivity of discussing P/0 operations&
67or that reason, the P/0 in Hong Kong is maintained largely as a symbolic presence&6
(I9; 7 (;< =;= 9,0(
7oreign diplomats watching developments remain unsure of the precise political
threshold that must be crossed for -ei*ing to unleash the troops&
,heir presence in Hong Kong, after all, has been one of the most sensitive elements of
the handover, fuelled by deep local memories of the $282 army crackdown on
protesting students in and around ,iananmen 9:uare in -ei*ing - an event still
commemorated annually in the city&
,he Chinese military is housed in $2 urban and rural sites inherited after the -ritish
folded up the >nion ?ack on what had been a ma*or military staging post of the -ritish
empire and a vital Cold 1ar-era listening post&,he bases, dotted strategically across
Hong Kong island, Kowloon and the =ew ,erritories, include the old -ritish ,amar
head:uarters building in 0dmiralty, now ne5t door to the government.s new offices -
and the epicentre of the current demonstrations&
,he building was recently refurbished, along with other sites, and is now topped with a
red neon star& Most of its offices are thought to be occupied, some for the first time&
0 large domed surveillance camera sits perched above a corner over one of the main
thoroughfares leading to Hong Kong.s glittering Central financial district&
-oth 0sian and 1estern envoys say they have spotted a lot more activity both at the
head:uarters and other sites over the last year& >nmarked black 9>@ vehicles sporting
military number plates are now a common sight on city streets&
61e are *ust not yet sure whether the activity is related to the Hong Kong situation, or
reflects China.s broader military build-up,6 one 0sian envoy said&
,he garrison did not respond to :uestions from (euters&

M0I=/0=< 9/<I;(9 K;;P , ,H;M9;/@;9
,he P/0.s presence is controlled by Hong Kong.s mini-constitution, the -asic /aw,
which states the garrison must not 6interfere6 in the city.s affairs but that Hong Kong.s
leaders can re:uest its help to keep order or handle disasters&
,hey must abide by local laws, which are governed by an independent *udiciary, in
contrast to the mainland legal system&
ther parts of the -asic /aw echo mainland laws and appear to allow for the standing
committee of China.s parliament, the =ational People.s Congress '=PC), to deploy the
garrison if a state of war or emergency is declared for Hong Kong&
>nder the -asic /aw, the =PC would need to be satisfied that there was enough
6turmoil6 to endanger 6national unity or security6 and was 6beyond control of the
'Hong Kong) government6&
6>ltimately I think it would have to be pretty e5treme to invoke those provisions and
call in the garrison,6 said Hong Kong >niversity law professor 9imon Aoung&
really talking complete collapse of government control or civil war&6
ne foreign envoy said the laws were written with enough leeway for -ei*ing to 6create
a narrative under which deployment becomes imperative6&
,he mainland law covering the garrison does not allow soldiers in Hong Kong to
belong to local political, social or religious organisations& =one are recruited locally&
,hey are kept on base where they are effectively isolated from Hong KongBs
freewheeling society and media&
-ritish troops en*oyed far more freedoms, and filled the city.s bar districts on nights
off& ther than occasional open-days, there is very little interaction between the P/0
and the Hong Kong community&
0nd unlike the -ritish forces in Hong Kong, the P/0 command is kept at arms length
from the local government, liaising via its civilian-run security bureau&
,here is no *oint police-army operational wing as in the colonial era, when the chief of
-ritish forces also served on the governor.s e5ecutive council, effectively his cabinet&
7oreign envoys note that the garrison appears largely geared for internal security,
rather than repelling foreign invasions&
(elatively lightly-armed, the garrison.s chief weapons are lightly armoured 1C!"D
personnel carriers, e:uipped with machine guns and suitable for Hong Kong.s tight
and congested streets&
Internal security was stressed, too, when Ma*or-+eneral ,an led the toasts during
cocktails with foreign diplomats, local officials and police as well as mainland
government officials and businessmen to mark the 83th anniversary of the P/0.s
founding on ?uly D$&
It was something of a coming out party for ,an, who had *ust arrived in Hong Kong
after commanding military forces on the strategically important Hainan Island in the
9outh China 9ea&
,he !3-year-old has also served in elite 9econd 0rtillery command that controls
China.s conventional and nuclear missiles, and earlier did a spell as garrison chief-of-
staff in Hong Kong&
He has said he would command *ointly with his political commissar, the more senior
/ieutenant +eneral Aue 9hi5in, a signal of the importance -ei*ing places on the
political dimension of the garrison.s Hong Kong role&
,he P/0, he told the gathering, had a long tradition of ensuring China.s internal
stability and security&
6It was a very short, blunt speech,6 said one observer& 6,hen there was all this (ussian-
style martial music blaring away& It was hardly the usual Hong Kong cocktail party&6
';diting by Mark -endeich and ?eremy /aurence)
Posted by ,havam