China issued a stark reminder Wednesday that its army could be deployed in Hong Kong if city authorities requested support in maintaining "public order" after weeks of sometimes violent protests.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian told reporters in Beijing that if the Hong Kong government requests the People's Liberation Army (PLA), "it can be deployed to Hong Kong to maintain social order," the South China Morning Post reported yesterday. The intervention by the army is seen as China's hardening stance against ongoing anti-extradition bill demonstrations in the autonomous region. "Sunday's siege of the mainland government's liaison office in the city was intolerable," Wu said.
Asked how his ministry would handle the situation in the city, Wu pointedly noted that there are "clear stipulations" in the Article 14 of Hong Kong's garrison law, without elaborating. According to the article, the city's authorities may ask, "when necessary," the central government for assistance from the garrison "in the maintenance of public order and in disaster relief."
This was the first time Beijing has publicly referred to the possibility of deploying PLA personnel to deal with the unrest in Hong Kong. The PLA has maintained a garrison in Hong Kong since the former British colony was returned to China in 1997, but its troops generally keep a low profile and are rarely seen in uniform in public.