HONG KONG - The chief of China's military garrison in Hong Kong has warned that violent clashes will not be tolerated and that the army is determined to protect China's sovereignty.
Major-General Chen Daoxiang, the commander of the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) Hong Kong garrison, made the remarks on Wednesday (July 31), at a reception in Hong Kong to celebrate the 92nd anniversary of the PLA.
A video showing a drill of armed troops quelling a protest was also shown at the reception, seen as a thinly veiled warning to Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
"Recently, there have been a series of violent incidents happening in Hong Kong," said Maj-Gen Chen.
"This has damaged the prosperity and stability of the city, and challenged the rule of law and social order. The incidents have seriously threatened the life and safety of Hong Kong citizens, and violated the bottom line of one country, two systems. This should not be tolerated and we express our strong condemnation," he said, as quoted by the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Maj-Gen Chen added that the garrison supports Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the police in maintaining law and order.
"We resolutely support the action to maintain Hong Kong's rule of law by the people who love the nation and the city, and we are determined to protect national sovereignty, security, stability and the prosperity of Hong Kong," he said.
The comments were the first time the garrison commander had spoken out about the Hong Kong protests since they erupted in March against a controversial extradition Bill. The Bill proposed the transfer of suspects to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no extradition agreement, including mainland China.
While Mrs Lam said the Bill has been suspended, protests have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms in Hong Kong.
Maj-Gen Chen said the PLA would adhere to Hong Kong's mini-Constitution, the Basic Law, as well as to the Hong Kong garrison law and the direction of the Central Military Commission headed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, reported SCMP.
The video, shown at the reception and later posted on social media, has a caption in which the military declares that it has the confidence and capabilities to maintain security in Hong Kong.
The three-minute video showcases the PLA’s tanks, helicopter gunfire, rocket launchers and other military hardware in action in Hong Kong, as well as heavily armed troops performing an anti-terrorism drill, AFP reporetd.
It also features an anti-riot drill in which armed soldiers, armoured personnel carriers and water cannons are used to disperse a crowd of protesters.
“All consequences are at your own risk,” a soldier yells into a loudspeaker at the start of the drill in Cantonese, the language spoken in Hong Kong, rather than the Mandarin of mainland China.
PLA troops are then seen wearing helmets, carrying long shields, marching with batons, laying out barbed-wire barricades and pointing assault rifles.
An officer is also seen holding a red flag that reads: “Warning, stop charging or we use force”.
The drill ends with armed troops escorting protesters, who have their arms tied behind their backs, being led to areas designated by banners as “detention points”, said AFP.
The release of the video came on the same day that dozens of people appeared in court in Hong Kong after being charged with “rioting” for their alleged involvement in an anti-government protest over the weekend.
The unrest began when masses of people took to the streets to stop a government effort to introduce a law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
The protests evolved into a people power movement for democratic reforms and an end to eroding freedoms, in the most significant challenge to Beijing’s rule since the city’s handover from Britain in 1997.
Beijing had largely left the city’s government to deal with the unrest.
Although on Tuesday, it stepped up its rhetoric with a rare press conference from the spokesman of the Cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.
“No civilised society or rule of law society will tolerate rampant violence,” the spokesman, Mr Yang Guang, told reporters in Beijing.
Thousands of PLA troops have been based at the Hong Kong garrison since the handover.
There has been speculation over whether the PLA will become involved in quelling the increasingly violent protests in Hong Kong, which have shown no signs of ending despite the extradition Bill being suspended.
The PLA said last week that its forces stationed in Hong Kong can be deployed to maintain public order in the city.
Such a move would have to come at the request of the Hong Kong government, according to its Garrison Law, which PLA spokesman Wu Qian referenced, noting that Article 14 has “clear stipulations”. He did not elaborate further.
Article 14 states that the city can ask the central government for help from the PLA’s Hong Kong garrison to maintain public order and for disaster relief. Should Beijing approve, the garrison would send troops to carry out the specified tasks. They would then return to their station.
The Hong Kong garrison has never been deployed under this law since Hong Kong’s return to the China in 1997, said the China Daily newspaper.
“We are closely following the developments in Hong Kong, especially the violent attack against the Central Government Liaison Office by radicals on July 21,” Colonel Wu said at a briefing in Beijing to introduce China’s new defence White Paper on July 24.