The commander of China’s armed forces in Hong Kong declared protests in the city “absolutely intolerable” on Wednesday, alleging the protesters are violent and vowing the military will “resolutely safeguard” China’s interests in the city.
The remarks occurred at an event to commemorate the anniversary of the founding of the communist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and mark the first time the most senior military officer in Hong Kong has remarked on the protests.
Both members of the pro-democracy movement and the international community have expressed concerns that China may send the PLA into Hong Kong to silence and kill protesters as it did in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. The protest movement began this year with a gathering in June attracting nearly 200,000 people to the heart of Hong Kong to honor those the Chinese killed in Tiananmen Square.
PLA Hong Kong Garrison Commander Chen Daoxiang called the protests “a series of violent radical incidents” and accused them of being a threat to peace in the city. The protests, he argued, “seriously disrupted Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, seriously challenged Hong Kong’s rule of law and social order, seriously threatened the life and property of Hong Kong citizens, and seriously violated the bottom line of One Country, Two Systems.”
“One Country, Two Systems” is the official policy that has governed Hong Kong since the British handed it to China in 1997. The policy allows Hong Kong to govern itself, without Communist Party oversight, so long as it remains an official part of sovereign China and does not seek independence.
The protest movement “is absolutely intolerable,” Chen said. “We strongly condemn this.”
Chen specifically condemned ongoing violence in Hong Kong, but the Communist Party has steadfastly maintained that only the pro-democracy protesters are engaging in violence, not the police or pro-China elements in the city. Video evidence circulating on social media globally tells a different story, however; the protesters have largely remained peaceful in the face of police tear gas attacks and mob beatings from white-clad pro-China mobs.
“The PLA Hong Kong Garrison will resolutely safeguard the country’s sovereignty and security, as well as Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability,” Chen said, according to a paraphrased report from the state-run China Daily. The newspaper notes that Chinese law allows the Hong Kong government to request aid from China “in the maintenance of public order.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry backed Chen’s comments.
“Major General Chen Daoxiang, Commander of the PLA Hong Kong Garrison, made impressive and encouraging remarks,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday. “The central government firmly supports the Hong Kong police in strictly enforcing law and firmly supports the SAR departments and judiciary in punishing violent criminals. We firmly support the patriot [sic] who truly love China and the Hong Kong SAR in upholding rule of law in Hong Kong. We resolutely safeguard China’s national sovereignty and security and Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”
Another official present at the reception to honor the Chinese military, Tung Chee-hwa, took the opportunity of speaking at an event earlier that day to accuse “foreign forces” of organizing the Hong Kong protests, echoing Chinese Foreign Ministry claims that the United States is actively instigating violence in the city.
“Some foreign politicians, those anti-China elements in particular, have always harbored the ulterior motives of turning Hong Kong into a battlefield to damage the relationship between the mainland and the [Special Administrative Region],” the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, quoted Tung as saying. “Hong Kongers shall by no means be used by them.”
Tung did accept that some “black sheep” in Hong Kong did oppose growing Chinese incursions into Hong Kong governance.
To further intimidate protesters, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) published a propaganda video on Thursday showing soldiers engaged in what the Global Times called “urban riot control.”
The Chinese army in Hong Kong has released a PR video: https://t.co/mLKhbbAeaV The three-minute clip includes a scene where a soldier shouts a warning in Cantonese: “All consequences are at your own risk.” pic.twitter.com/h4bWX3lrrS
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) August 1, 2019
The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) translated parts of the video:
The three-minute video included a scene where a soldier shouts a warning in Cantonese: “All consequences are at your own risk.”
In a chapter of the video titled “maintaining order,” soldiers with riot gear could be seen clearing protesters, firing water cannons and tear gas, and conducting mass arrests. In another chapter titled “anti-terrorism,” soldiers were seen advancing on a car resembling a New Territories green taxi.
The video ended with clips of citizens praising the PLA in Cantonese, and the slogan “Never forget our original aspirations to protect Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong residents began protesting the government this year in response to a proposed bill that would allow China to extradite anyone in Hong Kong if accused of violating Communist Party laws, which include severe restrictions on freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. The protests have been largely peaceful despite their enormous size, at one point in June attracting as many as 2 million people at once. The Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo), largely controlled by China, tabled the bill, which allows them to revive it at any time, in response to the protests. Pro-democracy activists are now demanding a full withdrawal of the bill, in addition to universal suffrage to allow them to choose lawmakers directly.
While the protesters have largely remained peaceful, they have been subject to extreme violence. Two weeks ago, a mob of white-clad thugs attacked protesters on their way home from a protest in Yuen Long, outside of the city center, beating the protesters with metal rods and bamboo sticks. Authorities said 45 people were hospitalized and only 12 arrested, some with ties to the organized crime syndicates known as triads. Videos surfaced following the attack of police officers chatting amicably with the attackers, leading many to believe it was a coordinated government attack.