17 November 2019
PLA armored cars roll along Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Today Commercial News
PLA armored cars roll along Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Today Commercial News

Seen and heard: PLA HK Garrison flexes its muscles

Occupy Central with Love and Peace, the civil disobedience movement pushing for unfettered public nomination of candidates for the 2017 chief executive election, has gained momentum on the back of the massive July 1 rally.

Organizers say they will launch a sit-in blockade of the financial district as early as next month should the Chinese legislature, the National People’s Congress, rule out so-called civil nomination for electing the city’s next leader.

The movement was launched early last year and in that time the Hong Kong Garrison of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has mounted a series of high-profile drills and maneuvers in and outside the city.

PLA war vessels cruised in Victoria Harbor in several coordinated air-sea patrols last year, with photos of the events showing sailors leveling guns at buildings in Central and Admiralty. And, in a first, the garrison staged large-scale firing exercises involving heavy attack helicopters in the northwestern New Territories.

Media reports also say an anti-riot-cum-counter-terrorism drill was held at the Gun Club Hill Barracks in Jordan, Kowloon last July by soldiers kitted out with riot shields and pepper spray. Similar drills have also been organized at barracks scattered throughout Hong Kong, including Central, Stanley, Kowloon Tong, Kwai Chung, Yuen Long, Fanling, Tuen Mun and Lantau Island. On top of that, the garrison’s air defense battalion conducted a missile defense exercise in China’s western desert, Ming Pao reported Tuesday.

These activities have intensified since last month. PLA Daily reported in early June that Yue Shixin, Hong Kong Garrison’s political commissar — an officer in the Chinese military who is the second-in-command responsible for ideological education — told soldiers to “prepare for a battle at any time”.

PLA Daily also released photos on its Weibo account showing squadrons of attack helicopters above Hong Kong in exercises including ultra-low height reconnaissance, mobile tracking and mock attacks. In one photo, helicopters were snapped flying over Statue Square on Chater Road — Occupy Central’s proposed venue.

The garrison’s major camps were opened to the public as usual on July 1, but this time there was some new military equipment on display to pique interest. Jane’s Defense Weekly reported that the new items include helicopters armed with two 23 mm cannons, sniper rifles fitted with infrared sights and other rifles with a range of 1,000 meters for human target and 1,500 m for material targets.

The garrison’s show of strength coincided with a number of pro-democracy protests. Beijing used to order the garrison to keep a low profile but it seems to now prefer to let the PLA flex its military muscles in the city. All the while there is no sign of compromise from the central authorities over the special administrative region’s democratic development and national security.

But it’s not just been a show of force — the military has been putting in some subtler appearances too.

Wang Xiaojun, commander-in-chief of the PLA Hong Kong Garrison, attended the passing-out parade of the Correctional Services Department held at the department’s staff training institute at the end of last month, the first time in four years that a PLA lieutenant general has appeared at the graduation ceremony of the SAR government’s disciplined services. Wang emphasized that all civil servants should be patriotic.

And, the PLA Hong Kong Garrison Building has had a massive renovation and facelift in the past 20 months. The new façade of the Soviet-style tower is crowned by a giant red star — the PLA emblem — on the side facing Victoria Harbor, shining brightly at night. Some say the huge star is a reminder to Hongkongers of the PLA’s power as well as an effort to deter any anti-Beijing troublemakers, the South China Morning Post reports.

Rumors about Beijing’s intentions were further fuelled by a recent neon light display on the building. Flashing lights spelled out “Chinese People’s Liberation Army” in rough simplified Chinese characters at night, looming over the harbor renowned for its glittering skyline and night view.

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Soldiers stage an anti-riot drill at the HK Garrison’s Central Barracks. Photo: Xinhua

A PLA Hong Kong Garrison soldier takes aim at buildings in Central and Admiralty. Photo: ChinaMil

A giant red star tops the newly renovated PLA HK Garrison Building in Central. HK SAR Central Government Offices are on the left. Photo: MW Tong

EJ Insight writer