China on Saturday deployed its troops in Hong Kong for the first time since the unprecedented pro-democracy protests began in the former British colony more than five months ago over a proposed extradition law, with soldiers in plain clothes clearing the roadblocks.
Soldiers from the Hong Kong Garrison of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) — the world’s largest military — have been deployed for the first time in more than five months of civil unrest in Hong Kong, as dozens marched from their Kowloon garrison to help clear roadblocks, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
It was also the first time in over a year that the PLA local garrison has been involved in the public community work.
The soldiers, mostly in green T-shirts and black shorts, and carrying red buckets, ran out of the PLA’s Kowloon Tong barracks at about 4 PM to clear obstacles on Renfrew Road, near Baptist University’s campus, the report said.
A soldier said their action had nothing to do with the Hong Kong government.
“We initiated this! Stopping violence and ending chaos is our responsibility,” he said, quoting a phrase coined by President Xi Jinping. Firefighters and police officers also joined the soldiers.
Earlier, Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said the PLA could freely decide on whether to send soldiers to perform volunteer services outside military sites and the local government had no record of how many times this has happened.
In October last year, more than 400 soldiers were sent in batches to Hong Kong’s country parks to help remove trees felled during Typhoon Mangkhut.
China earlier said under Article 14 of the city’s Garrison Law and Basic Law — the city’s mini-constitution, the PLA must not interfere in local affairs but troops can be called out to help with disaster relief if requested by the local government.
Such a request has never been made since the city returned to the Chinese rule 22 years ago.
On Thursday, Xi broke his silence over Hong Kong’s unprecedented pro-democracy protests threatening China’s control over the former British colony, saying the most pressing task at present was to bring violence and chaos to an end and restore order. Xi made the comments at the 11th BRICS Summit in Brasilia, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The protests which began over a proposed extradition law by the Hong Kong administration sparked fear of extradition of locals to the Chinese mainland for prosecution. It later turned into a major pro-democracy movement with demands to elect their local officials without the Chinese interference.