Hong Kong’s biggest pro-Beijing political party wants to open a debate on military service in China’s army.
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) will table a proposal at next month’s National People’s Congress that will set the plan in motion.
DAB cites its own survey which purports to show some Hong Kong youths want to serve in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
It did not say how this will come about but suggested Hong Kong students studying in the mainland could take part in a pilot scheme.
Service would be voluntary and there would be no conscription in the future, according to DAB.
This isn’t new.
Taiwan and Korea, for instance, require young people of a certain age to render mandatory military service. Singapore has both compulsory and voluntary military service.
In China, military conscription only exists in theory after the communists took over in 1949.
However, the case for Hong Kong military service in the Chinese army is a little hard to make because of “one country, two systems”.
Under this governing principle, Hong Kong has no role in the country’s military affairs, although China is responsible for its defense and security.
Also, there are concerns this is an attempt to raise a generation of Chinese patriots more than three decades before Hong Kong fully reverts to Chinese rule.
Some observers were quick to link the plan to recent efforts to introduce national education in Hong Kong, mothballed for two years after protests by parents and students fearful of communist indoctrination.
A PLA-backed army cadet program is coming into focus again, with some people saying it could be a back door to the Chinese army.
DAB is pushing a contentious agenda at a time of heightened cross-border tensions over Beijing’s implementation of “one country, two systems” that has deepened Hong Kong’s distrust of the mainland.
In a larger sense, it could be DAB’s answer to last year’s student-driven democracy street protests that could ultimately lead to the breakup of the more vocal wing of the younger population.
Whatever the motive behind it, this is one idea that makes little sense from a defense perspective.
China already has a standing army of 3.9 million-strong including 2.4 million in active military service and 500,000 in reserve.
A few thousand soldiers out of Hong Kong each year will not boost the mainland’s defense capability in any significant way.
But as a tool to promote patriotism and national identity, military service — in DAB’s mind — is the way to go.
That makes many of Hong Kong’s disaffected youths even more wary of their elders across the border.
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