China’s Global Times government newspaper suggested on Tuesday the Communist Party could send the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into Hong Kong to “reinforce” brutality by the Hong Kong police following a turbulent incident in the Hong Kong suburb of Sha Tin on Sunday that resulted in 22 injuries.
The Global Times cited Chinese “experts” who believed that the “violence” allegedly perpetrated by pro-democracy protesters may necessitate military action if they continue to escalate.
The protests Sunday in Sha Tin attracted 115,000 people and ended peacefully. At the end of the protest, however, the participants entered the local New Town Plaza mall to take the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) home. Police stormed the mall, cornered the protesters, and shot them with pepper spray, causing a chaotic and violent scene that the owners of the mall have distanced themselves from, insisting they did not at any moment call for police to subdue the crowd.
Despite the police triggering the violence in Sha Tin, the Global Times suggested that Hong Police may need even more manpower against the protesters and China could deploy the military, referring to the protests as “riots” despite their peaceful nature.
“Their endless riots have proved that they are not focusing on specific issues, and that they don’t care about democracy or human rights at all,” the newspaper quotes Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics professor Tian Feilong as saying. “It seems like they just want to use violence to force the country to make a tough decision, such as sending the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Hong Kong Garrison to reinforce Hong Kong police, since they believe this can embarrass the country before the international community and ruin people’s confidence in the city’s future.”
Tian suggested that Beijing could move the PLA into Hong Kong to attack protesters and “maintain public order” without abandoning the “One Country, Two Systems” policy that China vowed to respect when the United Kingdom returned Hong Kong to its custody in 1997.
The “One Country, Two Systems” policy allows Hong Kong to maintain its capitalist system so long as it respects that China is ultimately the sovereign entity that governs it. The protests began in early June in response to a proposed law that millions of residents feel would violate the spirit of the policy.
The proposed law would allow China to extradite anyone present in Hong Kong if Beijing charged them with a crime. Chinese law has no free speech, religion, or press freedoms enshrined, potentially exposing people in Hong Kong to being “disappeared” into a Chinese prison for expressing disapproval with the Communist Party. Such a crackdown on free speech would violate the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, the protesters allege.
In 2017, the Chinese Foreign Ministry proclaimed that China had no obligation to “One Country, Two Systems.”
“Now that Hong Kong has returned to the embrace of the motherland for 20 years, the Sino-British Joint Declaration – as a historical document – no longer has any practical significance,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at the time of the document that binds China to “One Country, Two Systems.” “It also does not have any binding power on how the Chinese central government administers Hong Kong. Britain has no sovereignty, no governing power and no supervising power over Hong Kong.”
“Tian stressed that these radical protesters and the foreign forces behind them should not underestimate China’s determination to protect Hong Kong,” the Global Times added. The newspaper went on to insist that the pro-democracy protesters’ “real purpose” is to “further disturb the social order and paralyze the rule of law,” not protect the democratic society that Hong Kong has enjoyed for decades apart from China.
The Chinese communist regime has repeatedly hinted at using the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to suppress the protests since they began in early June, first attracting 180,000 people to observe the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. On that occasion, the Communist Party used the PLA to kill an untold number of unarmed protesters in Beijing, who had united calling for an end to communist rule. The largest protest in June occurred after Hong Kong’s Legislative Council tabled the extradition bill, a move that temporarily made it impossible to vote on the bill but allowed lawmakers to revive it at any time. The June 16 protest attracted 2 million people out of 7 million Hong Kong residents.
In early July, the Global Times reported that the PLA had moved into the Hong Kong region and conducted “emergency response exercises” to prepare for an unspecified “emergency situation.” The PLA also held “open house” events throughout the weekend to celebrate the return of Hong Kong to Chinese control in 1997.
“The PLA Hong Kong Garrison is responsible for preparing against and resisting aggression, safeguarding the security of Hong Kong, carrying out defense duties, administering military facilities and handling foreign-related military affairs,” the Global Times asserted. Its “open house,” it said, was “a great opportunity to promote the Hong Kong people’s patriotic education and enhance recognition of their national identity.” Only 11 percent of Hong Kong residents identify as “Chinese” according to a poll taken in June, the lowest numbers on record.
The Sha Tin protests on Sunday marked a shift in strategy for the democracy movement, as they occurred far from the Admiralty district on Hong Kong island where the legislature is located, deep in the region’s suburbs. The violence against the protesters from police, many of which protesters said where not properly uniformed or identified as officers, also marks a shift. The police used a strategy protesters referred to as “kettling”: cornering the unarmed protesters in an enclosed indoor space and setting off pepper spray to injure them and cause desperation. In the ensuing melee, ten police officers were injured, authorities said, including one who had his finger bitten off.
Despite the chaos, stores within the New Town Plaza mall reported no theft or vandalism and some eyewitnesses said they saw protesters stay and help stores clean up. These testimonies contrasted significantly with the accusations against protesters in the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.
“Some protestors pried up bricks from pavements, stocked up considerable number of iron poles and other offensive weapons, demolished the railings nearby, and blocked the roads by railings and other miscellaneous objects,” the Daily claimed.