Chinese Military Says Hong Kong Garrison Is Determined, Confident and Capable After Troop 'Rotation' Raises Alarm

The Chinese military has said its troops in Hong Kong are ready to carry out their duties following the deployment of fresh soldiers to the territory.

Hong Kong police are gearing up for what is set to be the thirteenth consecutive weekend of anti-government protests, with the semi-autonomous region still gripped by mass social unrest.

As the demonstrations wear on, both sides are digging in. What began as a protest against a proposed new extradition bill has evolved into a five-point list of demands, which includes the resignation of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and universal suffrage for Hong Kong people.

Though the government has suspended the extradition bill, it has been largely unrelenting. According to a Reuters report, Beijing has instructed Lam not to bow to any of the protesters' demands. Meanwhile, the weekly demonstrations have become more violent and clashes between police and activists more regular.

Thus far, the People's Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong—some 6,000 to 10,000 troops—has remained confined to its bases. But Chinese officials and media have hinted they could be deployed if the situation demands it.

Beijing rotated its garrisoned troops in the early hours of Thursday morning. The sight of troop transports and armored vehicles entering Hong Kong raised concerns that China was preparing its garrison to take action against the protesters.

On Thursday, People's Liberation Army spokesperson Ren Guoqiang told reporters the fresh soldiers were "determined, confident and capable" of performing their duties, according to the state-backed Global Times newspaper.

He added that the garrison would be carrying out normal daily activities, which include defense duties and military training. Ren stressed that the troops there would follow the command of the Communist Party Central Committee in Beijing but that the rotation was "routine."

Ren also said the garrison has been securing Hong Kong's sovereignty since the territory was transferred from British to Chinese control in 1997. This includes defense of the "one country, two systems" agreement that allowed Hong Kong's people greater personal and political freedoms than their compatriots on the mainland.

This was the crux of the current round of protests. The proposed bill would have allowed Hong Kong to extradite criminals to the mainland for trial, raising fears that Beijing would use it to persecute and silence political dissidents.

On Friday, state-backed newspaper China Daily warned that the troops were not in Hong Kong for symbolic purposes, and have "no reason to sit on their hands" if the unrest worsens.

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A Chinese People's Liberation Army soldier guards the entrance to the PLA Forces Hong Kong Building, which is the headquarters for the PLA Hong Kong Garrison, in the Admiralty district in Hong Kong on August 1, 2019. ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP/Getty Images/Getty