China’s military has deployed fresh troops to Hong Kong in what it called a routine rotation, amid speculation that it might intervene in the city’s pro-democracy protests.
CCTV footage showed armoured carriers, trucks and a patrol boat crossing the border at night from the neighbouring Chinese city of Shenzhen.
Scores of soldiers ran in unison on to trucks, which the state broadcaster said were bound for various ports and entry points into Hong Kong. A handover ceremony was held overnight.
Before their departure, an army major told the troops: “This time the task has a glorious mission. The responsibility is great. The job is difficult. The time for a true test has arrived.”
The official Xinhua News Agency said it was the 22nd rotation of the People’s Liberation Army’s garrison in Hong Kong. The previous one was in August 2018.
Nearly three months of fiery anti-government demonstrations have sparked concern that the military will be deployed in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
The soldiers in the new rotation were educated on Hong Kong’s laws and vowed to defend the nation’s sovereignty, Xinhua said.
Liu Zhaohui, the garrison’s deputy chief of staff, said on CCTV: “We will firmly follow the command of (the ruling Communist Party). We will firmly implement the guideline of ‘one country, two systems’ and the Basic Law and the Garrison Law of Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong was returned by Britain to China in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” framework, which promises the city certain democratic rights that are not afforded to the Chinese mainland.
But in recent years, some Hong Kong residents have accused Beijing of steadily eroding their freedoms.
When asked whether the military will step in, China’s Defence Ministry has pointed to a provision in the Garrison Law which allows Hong Kong-stationed troops to help maintain public order at the request of the city government. Hong Kong authorities, however, have said they can handle the situation themselves.