China’s communist government insists that troop movements at its Hong Kong garrison ahead of anticipated mass pro-democracy protests this weekend are part of a scheduled rotation.
After witnesses had reported the troop movements in the early hours of Thursday morning (Aug. 29), China’s state-run propaganda outlet Xinhua published images of a long column of Chinese military vehicles moving across the border into Hong Kong. The report also said a naval vessel had arrived in the waters of the autonomous city.
The state-run Global Times also released a video showing the troop movements.
Xinhua described the activity as an “annual normal routine” of the Hong Kong Garrison of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The Guardian, however, reported that “In the previous two rotations – in 2017 and 2018 – state media reports noted that the number of troops and equipment had not changed. This year the report does not include that detail. It is estimated there are between 8,000 and 10,000 troops in the garrison, on either side of the border.”
Hong Kong Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok told public broadcaster RTHK: “I believe this is a deliberate posture on the part of the PLA to tell or warn the Hong Kong people that it may be deployed. As I said time and again, the use of troops in Hong Kong will be the end of Hong Kong, and I would warn against any such move on the part of the central people’s government.”
The troop movements come ahead of a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong planed for Aug. 31. Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), which organized the demonstration, said it received notice on Aug. 29 that police had banned the event.
Hours after receiving the notice, the CHRF said one of its members, Jimmy Sham, and a friend of his were attacked inside a restaurant by two men in masks wielding baseball bats and knives. The CHRF said Sham was unharmed and his friend is receiving treatment for injuries sustained during the attack.
Events organized by CHRF this summer have drawn hundreds of thousands of residents in some of the largest demonstrations seen in Hong Kong since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
“My guess is, whoever attacked [or] hired people to attack Jimmy want to … scare people away from protests,” CHRF’s Bonne Leung said. “But I don’t think it will work. Hong Kong people know the importance of unity — the more people come out, the safer everyone will be.”
The Guardian noted that Hong Kong “has seen an escalation of violence targeted at protesters, journalists and pro-democracy figures in recent weeks.”
Last week, three people were stabbed at a “Lennon Wall” in eastern Hong Kong. The “Lennon Wall” is one of many temporary collections of posters and notes that have gone up across the city to support protesters, according to Hong Kong Free Press.
In separate incidents, groups of stick-wielding men attacked protesters in Yuen Long after a demonstration on July 21 and again at a demonstration in Causeway Bay on Aug. 5.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association said on Aug. 28 it was troubled by reports that the local government might issue an executive order to block selective websites or applications.
The association said such an order would be the “end of the open Internet of Hong Kong” and “permanently deter international businesses from positing their businesses and investments in Hong Kong.”
The association also said it would be an ineffective move as it “would not deter nor stop determined users from accessing their desired services” through a virtual private network (VPN).