As protesters in Hong Kong plan more demonstrations triggered by the now-suspended extradition bill, the Chinese army garrison that’s stationed in the city has released a video showing soldiers participating in an “anti-riot simulation exercise.”
The city is currently facing its biggest political crisis since the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997, as Hongkongers have staged large-scale marches to oppose an extradition proposal that would have allowed people to be sent to stand trial in mainland China, prompting widespread fears that individuals would be handed over to face trial in the Beijing regime’s opaque legal system.
In recent weeks, protesters’ demands have evolved to include universal suffrage and investigations into Hong Kong’s police use of force, after they fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and other implements to disperse crowds.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the official name of China’s military, has remained in its barracks since protests began in April, leaving Hong Kong’s police force to deal with the protests.
But there is local anxiety about the possibility of the PLA deploying its troops to quell protests, as evidenced by internet reports of the PLA sending troops to the mainland Chinese border with Hong Kong, along with recent comments by a spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense that hinted at the possibility.
The video was presented at a reception that was organized by the garrison on July 31, as part of celebrations for the 92nd year of the PLA’s founding.
Chen Daoxiang, the garrison commander, gave a speech, in which he condemned the recent protests as “extremely violent,” and “absolutely cannot be tolerated.” He also said the garrison “resolutely supported” current Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and the Hong Kong police.
Then, the video, titled “Never Forget Our Purpose, Protect Hong Kong,” was shown.
Troops from the Hong Kong garrison can be seen firing weapons on land, at sea, and in the air as part of exercises.
In one scene, captioned an “anti-riot simulation exercise,” a soldier shouts in Cantonese several times: “All consequences are at your own risk.” This is the only sentence in the entire video where a soldier is heard speaking the local dialect.
A red sign with the words, “Warning, Stop charging or we use force,” was also held aloft, similar to what Hong Kong police have used during protests.
The video then shows roughly 10 seconds of troops with shields firing at an unarmed group of people. Several people with their hands cuffed are then taken away.
The provincial police department for Guangdong—the mainland Chinese province that borders Hong Kong—announced July 30 that it’s practicing security measures for Oct. 1, the anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s takeover of China. The police department operated a drill in Foshan City, where roughly 20,000 police from across the province practiced using riot control, armored, and army transport vehicles, among other defense equipment.
“I must win if the government asks me to fight,” the police force was told, according to local state-run media Southern Daily.
U.S.-based China affairs commentator Tang Jingyuan said that even with the overt aggressive messaging by Chinese authorities in recent days, the possibility of actual PLA deployment is low, as international scrutiny of the Hong Kong protests has put the Chinese regime in a bind.
The garrison’s actions were most likely about flexing its muscle, he said. As Beijing is dealing with a trade dispute with the United States and uncertainty in Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election, its priority is to exhibit stability.
“The nature of the Chinese Communist Party and its history shows that it will only shoot the people when it thinks there’s a risk to its ruling,” Tang told The Epoch Times in a phone interview on Aug. 1.
“The current situation in Hong Kong is different from what happened in Beijing during the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre,” Tang said, noting that while Hongkongers are critical of the Chinese regime, they aren’t challenging the Chinese regime’s sovereignty over the territory.
In 1989, student protesters were calling for government reform, which presented a challenge to the Party’s authority.