Hong Kong is still embroiled in a protracted crisis which has seen a groundswell of opposition to a China extradition bill and a shift of focus from local authorities to Beijing, a mood encapsulated by the Chinese coat of arms at Beijing’s representative office being smeared with black ink during rallies last Sunday.
Beijing has not hid its anger in its serial condemnations since then. Meanwhile, news emerged that People’s Liberation Army troops are in the midst of a drill mocking running battles against terrorists and rioters in a street setting.
The PLA’s 74th Army Group revealed on its Weibo account, China’s Twitter-like networking service, that several brigades under its command started a war-game on Monday in Zhanjiang, a city 320km southwest on the Guangdong coast.
The post said PLA troops were honing their skills in swiftly quelling large-scale unrest and restoring order in other contingencies such as terrorist attacks in a city and suburban environment. But it was short of more details on the drill and the army group’s related deployment.
However, other reports circulating online suggested that about 1,500 soldiers were taken to a site in Zhanjiang that was purpose-built for crowd control and anti-riot and terrorism training with mock streets, schools and residential blocks, and that some of the troops involved acted as an adversarial force during the drill.
The 74th army group – based in Huizhou, less than 100 km north of Hong Kong – is an ace force under the PLA’s Southern Theater Command that fought several treacherous battles in the Sino-Japanese War, the Korean War and in the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War. Its former chief commander Liu Zhenwu became the first commander of the PLA’s Hong Kong Garrison, who represented the PLA and took over the Central Barracks of British Forces at the stroke of midnight of the handover day, as Chinese troops entered the former British colony and the Brits pulled out.
A retired PLA colonel told Hong Kong reporters that if the situation in the city became pressing, a substantial number of troops would quickly cross the border to reinforce the PLA garrison and restore order.
Last month the PLA wrapped up a naval exercise in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor while its seamen were seen leveling their guns at skyscrapers in Central and Admiralty district. The PLA maintains about 6,000 personnel in Hong Kong. The local drill was held at a time when demonstrators and the city’s riot police were locked in intense confrontations as punches were thrown and tear gas and rubber bullets fired.
Protesters were pressing the authorities to retract an amendment bill that would allow the transfer of wanted people from the city to mainland China to face trial and imprisonment.
While there have been calls to dispatch the army to end the chaotic protests in Hong Kong before violence comes to a head, not all party mouthpiece support such a last-resort solution, which could mean the end of Hong Kong and the freedoms and liberty it still has.
Hu Xijin, chief editor of the nationalist tabloid Global Times, who is known for his belligerent and patriotic outlook, cautioned on his Weibo account that Beijing would not be able to effectively rule the city even though it would be a breeze for the PLA to round up “thugs”.
“Should we establish a party branch in each district and community in Hong Kong [after the takeover by the PLA]? The opposition camp would have every means to smear, resist and stir up trouble, and the West as a whole would launch a whole new round of criticism attacking Beijing for destroying its ‘One country, two systems’ pledges, meaning great uncertainty and political cost that would be too big to bear,” Hu wrote.