China army soldiers appear on Hong Kong streets to clean up roadblocks as protests continue
Soldiers from the Chinese army were deployed in Hong Kong on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, a first in more than five months of civil unrest in the city.
They marched from their Kowloon garrison to help clear roadblocks.
It is unclear exactly how many of them were involved.
The soldiers were mostly in green t-shirts and black shorts, and carrying red buckets.
They ran out of the PLA’s Kowloon Tong barracks at about 4pm.
They headed for an area near Baptist University’s campus to clear obstacles on Renfrew Road.
Rare for PLA to get involved
The last time the People’s Liberation Army’s local garrison were engaged to carry out work in Hong Kong was in October 2018.
Then, more than 400 soldiers were sent in batches to Hong Kong’s country parks to help remove trees felled during Typhoon Mangkhut a month earlier in September.
No idea on whose orders PLA was acting upon
Exactly on whose orders the soldiers were deployed no one could tell.
A soldier said their action had nothing to do with the Hong Kong government.
Quoting a phrase coined by President Xi Jinping, one of them said: “We initiated this! ‘Stopping violence and ending chaos’ is our responsibility.”
Firefighters and police officers also joined in.
About 20 people were clearing the roadblocks before the soldiers showed up.
The people brought trolleys to move bricks and other objects onto the pavement.
PLA can move freely but must inform Hong Kong government
It is understood that the PLA could freely decide on whether to send soldiers into Hong Kong outside military sites to carry out duties.
There are no records of how many times these incidents have happened.
Under the city’s Garrison Law, and the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, the PLA must not interfere in local affairs.
But troops can help with disaster relief or maintain public order, if requested by the local government.
But such a request has never been made in the last 22 years, since the city returned to Chinese rule.
The Garrison Law also states the Hong Kong government should be notified.
The move by the PLA was not ordered by the chairman of the Central Military Commission.
PLA in Hong Kong can cause potential problems
The presence of Chinese soldiers in Hong Kong could present a new set of problems and ignite old ones.
The worry is that clashes can occur and this can lead to justification for bringing in more troops and weaponry to deal with the situation.
Conversely, the soldiers could also be seen as trying to make an impression on the public and allow people to get used to them carrying out activities outside the barracks.
The deployment of PLA troops is almost clockwork-like.
In August, Beijing moved thousands of troops across the border into Hong Kong.
The operation was described by state news agency Xinhua at the time as a routine “rotation”.
Up to 12,000 troops are now believed to be based across Hong Kong.
This is twice the usual garrison number.
In October, Chinese soldiers issued a warning to Hong Kong protesters who shone lasers at their barracks in the city.
It was the first direct interaction between mainland military forces and protesters.