US 'deeply concerned' over reports of China paramilitary near HK

August 15, 2019 10:05
A satellite image appears to show a close up of Chinese military vehicles at Shenzhen Bay Sports Center in Shenzhen, China, on August 12. Photo: Maxar Technologies/Handout via Reuters

The United States is "deeply concerned" about Chinese paramilitary movement along the Hong Kong border, a State Department spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Urging all sides to refrain from violence, the spokeswoman said it is important for the Hong Kong government to respect “freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly” and for Beijing to adhere to its commitments to allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, Reuters reports.

The protests in Hong Kong reflect “broad and legitimate concerns about the erosion" of the territory's autonomy, the US spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, she warned that "continued erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy puts at risk" the preferential status the city enjoys under US law. 

The comments came after senior US lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties called on President Donald Trump to take a tougher line with China as worries grew over a possible Chinese intervention in Hong Kong amid the ongoing pro-democracy protests in the city. 

On Wednesday, the Democratic chairman of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, and the panel’s leading Republican, Michael McCaul, said they were concerned that 30 years after the Tiananmen Square massacre, China might again consider brutally putting down peaceful protests.

“We urge China to avoid making such a mistake, which would be met with universal condemnation and swift consequences,” they said in a statement.

China’s state-run Global Times media outlet reported on Monday that People’s Armed Police (PAP) had been assembling in Shenzhen, a city bordering Hong Kong, “in advance of apparent large-scale exercises.”

It cited video it had obtained showing numerous armored personnel carriers (APCs), trucks and other vehicles on expressways heading in the direction of Shenzhen over the weekend.

It noted that the role of the PAP was “dealing with rebellions, riots, serious violent and illegal incidents, terrorist attacks and other social security incidents.”

Satellite images made available to Reuters on Wednesday from Maxar Technologies showed dozens of vehicles, including what appeared to be APCs, at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre in the southern Chinese city.

A US official told Reuters that Beijing has stationed large numbers of paramilitary PAP “near and further out from Hong Kong,” in response to weeks of street protests in the territory, but said there had been no sign they were moving toward the border.

The number of personnel was “in the thousands,” said the official, who did not want to be identified.

“They have amped up training and made it all pretty visible,” he said, but added: “There are no recent indicators that they are preparing to deploy.”

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