Chinese military can be deployed at Hong Kong’s request to contain protests, Beijing says

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Protesters use metal poles on Monday to smash windows of the Legislative Council complex in Tamar.
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SCMP/Sam Tsang

The Chinese military has said that it can be deployed to Hong Kong to maintain social order at the request of the city’s government, adding that Sunday’s siege of the mainland government’s liaison office in the city was intolerable.

Wu Qian, a spokesman for China’s defence ministry, echoed Tuesday’s state media reports by saying the vandalism of the central government liaison office in Hong Kong – after weeks of mass protests against the city’s extradition bill – was a challenge to the bottom line of the principle of “one country, two systems”.

“We are closely following the developments in Hong Kong, especially the violent attack against the central government liaison office by radicals on July 21,” Wu said at a briefing on Wednesday to introduce China’s new defence white paper.

“Some behaviour of the radical protesters is challenging the authority of the central government and the bottom line of one country, two systems. This is intolerable.”

Asked how the defence ministry would handle events in Hong Kong and independence forces, Wu said only that “Article 14 of the garrison law has clear stipulations”, without elaborating.

The garrison law became effective on July 1, 1997, the date of the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China. Article 14 states that the Hong Kong government – in accordance with the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution – can ask the central government for assistance from the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) Hong Kong garrison for the maintenance of public order and disaster relief.

Should any such request by the Hong Kong government be approved, the Hong Kong garrison would send troops to carry out the task, then immediately return to their station.

The troops would be under the command of the garrison’s highest commander, or the officer authorised by them, with arrangements to carry out the required task being made by the Hong Kong government.

Meanwhile, Article 14 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law states: “Military forces stationed by the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for defence shall not interfere in the local affairs of the Region. The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may, when necessary, ask the Central People’s Government for assistance from the garrison in the maintenance of public order and in disaster relief.”

Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the defence spokesman’s remarks were noteworthy because they were subtly different from the mainland authorities’ long-standing stance that the PLA’s Hong Kong garrison would not interfere in the city’s internal affairs.

“Now the spokesman of the defence ministry did not say explicitly that the PLA’s Hong Kong garrison would not interfere in the city’s affairs, but instead said the ministry is closely following the developments in Hong Kong,” Lau said.

“My interpretation is that the PLA is in the stage of observing the situation in Hong Kong. The PLA’s Hong Kong garrison is like a submarine which is floating up slowly to the water level.

The People’s Liberation Army has a garrison in Hong Kong. Photo: EPA-EFEThe People’s Liberation Army has a garrison in Hong Kong. Photo: EPA-EFE The People’s Liberation Army has a garrison in Hong Kong. Photo: EPA-EFE The Chinese military has said that it can be deployed to Hong Kong to maintain social order at the request of the city’s government, adding that Sunday’s siege of the mainland government’s liaison office in the city was intolerable. Wu Qian, a spokesman for China’s defence ministry, echoed Tuesday’s state media reports by saying the vandalism of the central government liaison office in Hong Kong – after weeks of mass protests against the city’s extradition bill – was a challenge to the bottom line of the principle of “one country, two systems”.

“We are closely following the developments in Hong Kong, especially the violent attack against the central government liaison office by radicals on July 21,” Wu said at a briefing on Wednesday to introduce China’s new defence white paper.

“Some behaviour of the radical protesters is challenging the authority of the central government and the bottom line of one country, two systems. This is intolerable.”

Asked how the defence ministry would handle events in Hong Kong and independence forces, Wu said only that “Article 14 of the garrison law has clear stipulations”, without elaborating.

The garrison law became effective on July 1, 1997, the date of the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China. Article 14 states that the Hong Kong government – in accordance with the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution – can ask the central government for assistance from the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) Hong Kong garrison for the maintenance of public order and disaster relief.

Should any such request by the Hong Kong government be approved, the Hong Kong garrison would send troops to carry out the task, then immediately return to their station.

The troops would be under the command of the garrison’s highest commander, or the officer authorised by them, with arrangements to carry out the required task being made by the Hong Kong government.

Meanwhile, Article 14 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law states: “Military forces stationed by the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for defence shall not interfere in the local affairs of the Region. The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may, when necessary, ask the Central People’s Government for assistance from the garrison in the maintenance of public order and in disaster relief.”

Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the defence spokesman’s remarks were noteworthy because they were subtly different from the mainland authorities’ long-standing stance that the PLA’s Hong Kong garrison would not interfere in the city’s internal affairs.

“Now the spokesman of the defence ministry did not say explicitly that the PLA’s Hong Kong garrison would not interfere in the city’s affairs, but instead said the ministry is closely following the developments in Hong Kong,” Lau said.

“My interpretation is that the PLA is in the stage of observing the situation in Hong Kong. The PLA’s Hong Kong garrison is like a submarine which is floating up slowly to the water level.

“Beijing is concerned about interference in Hong Kong affairs by foreign and external forces, and is using the existence of the PLA in the city to imply that it could play a role, in accordance with the laws.”

Lau said anti-government protesters should avoid attacking the facilities of the central government’s liaison office and the PLA garrison.

The leader of the pro-democracy Civic Party, Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, acknowledged that Beijing’s line had become slightly tougher, which he said was worrying.

“It is up to the Hong Kong government to send the world a message on how it would uphold and protect the city’s autonomy,” he said. “It is the government’s responsibility to reassure not only Hong Kong people but also Beijing and the world that it has the capability to keep things under control.”

He said Hong Kong people had lost confidence in the city’s government but that did not mean they wanted the PLA to take over. On Monday, the liaison office director Wang Zhimin condemned the demonstrators’ actions.

“They have damaged the spirit of the rule of law in Hong Kong … and seriously hurt the feelings of all Chinese people, including 7 million Hongkongers,” Wang said.

He said he appreciated those who had taken part in the pro-establishment camp’s rallies on June 30 and July 20, and said he had received a lot of messages supporting the liaison office since Sunday night.

Some pro-establishment lawmakers in Hong Kong said after Sunday’s unrest that the liaison office represented a symbol of Beijing’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, and that the protesters’ actions had contravened the national constitution, destroyed Hong Kong’s social order and harmed its people’s interests.

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST