Satellite photos appear to show Chinese armoured military vehicles near Hong Kong

   Chinese state media have said only that the exercises had been planned before hand and were not directly related to the unrest in Hong Kong, although they came shortly after the central government in Beijing said the protests were beginning to sho
Chinese state media said that the exercises had been planned beforehand and were not directly related to the unrest in Hong Kong, although they came shortly after the central government in Beijing said the protests were beginning to show the "sprouts of terrorism".PHOTOS: ALEXANDREKRAUSZ/TWITTER
A handout satellite image made available by Maxar Technologies shows military and security vehicles parked in the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center on Aug 12, 2019.
A handout satellite image made available by Maxar Technologies shows military and security vehicles parked in the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center on Aug 12, 2019.PHOTO: MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/EPA-EFE

HONG KONG (AP, AFP) - Satellite photos show what appear to be armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles belonging to the China's paramilitary People's Armed Police parked in a sports complex in the city of Shenzhen, in what some have interpreted as a threat from Beijing to use increased force against pro-democracy protesters across the border in Hong Kong.

The pictures collected on Monday by Maxar's WorldView show 500 or more vehicles sitting on and around the soccer stadium at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center just across the harbour from Asian financial hub that has been rocked by more than two months of near-daily street demonstrations.

Chinese state media have said only that the exercises had been planned before hand and were not directly related to the unrest in Hong Kong, although they came shortly after the central government in Beijing said the protests were beginning to show the "sprouts of terrorism".

President Donald Trump tweeted that US intelligence believes that the Chinese government is moving troops to its border with Hong Kong and that, "Everyone should be calm and safe!"

A US State Department spokesman voiced concerns about the “continued erosion” of Hong Kong’s autonomy and expressed “staunch” support for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the territory. 

 “The United States is deeply concerned by reports of Chinese paramilitary movement along the Hong Kong border,” the spokesperson, who would not be named, told Agence France-Presse in a statement.

“The United States strongly urges Beijing to adhere to its commitments in the Sino-British Joint Declaration to allow Hong Kong to exercise a high degree of autonomy.”

The spokesperson said the protests reflect “broad and legitimate concerns” among Hong Kong’s citizenry over the loss of autonomy, which was agreed in the deal between London and Beijing over returning the former British colony to China in 1997.

“We condemn violence and urge all sides to exercise restraint, but remain staunch in our support for freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in Hong Kong,” the US official said.  “We categorically reject the false charge of foreign forces as the black hand behind the protests,” the official added.

Beijing has been apparently reluctant to send in police or army units from the mainland or to mobilise the People's Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong to quell the unrest. It's seen as mindful of the devastating effect that would have both on the territory's reputation as a safe and stable place to invest in, and as indication of the Communist Party's failure to win over the hearts and minds of the city's 7.3 million residents, 22 years after the former British colony was handed over to China.

It would also be a shocking reminder of the PLA's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations centred on Beijing's Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, which remains a taboo subject in China but is memorialised with a massive rally and march each year in Hong Kong.

Yet, mainland China is believed to have already dispatched officers to fortify the ranks of the Hong Kong police, and may also have planted decoys among the protesters in order to encourage more violent acts that could eventually turn ordinary Hong Kongers against the protest movement.


A handout satellite image made available by Maxar Technologies shows military and security vehicles parked in the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center on Aug 12, 2019. PHOTO: MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/EPA-EFE

Such a change in sentiments does not yet appear to have happened despite rising violence surrounding protests and the shutdown of the city's usually bustling international airport for two days after it was occupied by demonstrators.