In Depth

Will China invade Hong Kong?

Beijing insists troop rotation on the border is standard procedure

China has reportedly rotated fresh troops into its Hong Kong border garrison, prompting new fears of a crackdown on the ongoing anti-government protests in the city-state.

“CCTV footage showed armoured vehicles and a patrol boat crossing the border from Shenzhen”, in mainland China, to the Hong Kong garrison, where around 10,000 People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops are stationed, says The Times

The PLA has issued a statement insisting the procedure amounted to “annual normal routine action” that would allow China's military to “resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development interests, effectively perform Hong Kong's defence duties, and safeguard Hong Kong's prosperity”, CNN reports.

However, The Guardian notes that the previous two rotations, in 2017 and 2018, were accompanied by a statement from Beijing confirming that there had been no change in the number of troops and equipment deployed.

By contrast, the latest statement does not include that detail, although

But will China invade? With troops massing on the border, the future of Beijing’s approach to Hong Kong appears to be hanging in the balance. 

Why are there protests in Hong Kong?

Demonstrations in Hong Kong were originally triggered by a bill that would allow suspects to be extradited to mainland China. The bill has now been put on hold, but anger has turned against the Hong Kong authorities, who have been accused of using excessive force against the protestors.

The UK is among a host of countries that have issued travel warnings for people visiting Hong Kong, citing “severe” action by security forces as a reason for caution.

Footage from the protests have shown police firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at demonstrators at close range, and beating them with batons.

The BBC reports that Hong Kong police have also admitted deploying undercover officers disguised as protesters, after videos emerged showing law enforcers making arrests while wearing civilian clothes and the yellow hard hats that have become part of the unofficial uniform of the anti-government demonstrators.

Defending the use of the “decoy officers”, Hong Kong Deputy Police Commissioner Tang Ping-Keung said: I can say that during the time when our police officers were disguised... they [did not] provoke anything.

“We won’t ask them to stir up trouble.”

The protests have also caused travel chaos, with more than 5,000 protestors storming the main terminal of Hong Kong’s international airport on Monday, resulting in the cancellations of hundreds of flights.

Addressing a subsequent press conference , Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam warned that a continuation of the violence and unrest would push the territory “down a path of no return”.

What is China doing on the border?

China is fuelling fears of a violent crackdown by building up its military forces at a garrison in the neighbouring city of Shenzhen.

Satellite images taken in early August revealed armoured vehicles and uniformed men at the stadium, and a cleaner at the complex told the Financial Times there were “tens of thousands of troops” drilling there.

Beijing has offered no official explanation for the influx of troops, after having claimed that “a previous drill by police was in preparation for the anniversary of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October”, says the newspaper.

In an apparent bid to justify any crackdown, a spokesperson for China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office has claimed that protesters have “repeatedly used extremely dangerous tools to attack police officers”, and that “the first signs of terrorism are starting to appear”.

The military movement comes “amid speculation that Chinese forces could enter the city and quash the protests, which are in their third month”, says CNN - a move that could have “devastating effects on the territory's economy”.

“Any echo of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, in which troops were deployed to clear pro-democracy protesters from the centre of Beijing, could send Hong Kong's stock market crashing and foreign business fleeing,” CNN adds.

Now, for the 13th week running, a city that “prides itself on high-toned rule of law has become the backdrop for a grinding stand-off” that is testing both the resolve of one of the world’s economic centres and the dexterity of China’s President Xi Jinping, says The New Yorker.

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