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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 !, "#$%&
BY GREG TORODE AND DAVID LAGUE-HONG
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
day&
,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& 61e.re
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