Top Chinese military official in Hong Kong labels protests 'intolerable'
By ANNA FIFIELD | The Washington Post | Published: August 1, 2019
BEIJING — The top Chinese military official in Hong Kong has called the violent protests of recent weeks "absolutely intolerable," in a threatening speech that coincides with the release of an extraordinary video showing Chinese soldiers practicing firing on demonstrators.
Together, the speech and the video served as a thinly veiled warning to the protesters in Hong Kong that China's patience is growing thin and that it is becoming increasingly willing to use force to quell the demonstrations in the semiautonomous territory.
"We resolutely support the action to maintain Hong Kong's rule of law by the people who love the nation and the city, and we are determined to protect national sovereignty, security, stability and the prosperity of Hong Kong," said Maj. Gen. Chen Daoxiang, commander of the People's Liberation Army Garrison in Hong Kong.
He described the demonstrations, which have continued for eight consecutive weekends, as "absolutely intolerable." The protests began as demonstrations against an extradition bill but have morphed into wider calls for democracy.
The demonstrations have turned violent at times and have become increasingly disruptive, but protesters have vowed to continue agitating for greater rights and fewer restrictions imposed by Beijing.
Chen made the remarks at a reception in Hong Kong on Wednesday night to mark the 92nd anniversary of the PLA's founding, which fell on Thursday. Carrie Lam, the Beijing-backed chief executive of Hong Kong, attended the event.
"The incidents have seriously threatened the life and safety of Hong Kong citizens and violated the bottom line of 'one country, two systems,' " Chen said, referring to the principle that Hong Kong is supposed to enjoy a high degree of autonomy from the mainland.
At the same time, the Hong Kong garrison released a provocative video on its Weibo microblogging page that showed soldiers shouting into a loudspeaker in Cantonese, the language spoken in Hong Kong: "At your own peril!"
The soldiers, dressed in combat gear and holding shields, march forward and fire warning shots to disperse a pretend crowd in the streets. Some of the soldiers are carrying red banners that read, "Stop charging, or we use force," in English and Chinese.
The caption on the video says: "The PLA's Hong Kong Garrison is an important embodiment of China's national sovereignty, a vital force of safeguarding the 'One Country, Two Systems,' and a cornerstone in maintaining Hong Kong's prosperity and stability. What we have been doing is preparing for war, training hard on enemy-killing skills, and keep our weapons ready and always ready to attack!"
The foreign minister of Taiwan, Jaushieh Joseph Wu, wrote on Twitter that "Beijing is celebrating Armed Forces Day in a most uncivilized fashion."
"The people of #HongKong are gifted a video of vile threats! The PLA is supposed to protect the people, not pound them into submission. It's time for authoritarian China to back off!" Wu wrote in remarks that were sure to antagonize Beijing.
The Communist Party views Taiwan as a renegade province that belongs to mainland China. Beijing has been making its unhappiness with the island's independence-minded government increasingly obvious in recent days, especially as Taiwan and Hong Kong's protesters appear to band together in the name of democracy.
A Chinese warship collided with a Taiwanese cargo ship in the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday night, Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration reported Thursday. The Taiwanese ship was damaged, but none of its crew were injured, according to local reports.
The PLA's video also showed tanks conducting maneuvers around the pretend streets, in scenes that left little room for misinterpretation.
Asked how the world should interpret the video, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that people should "go ask the military." She added, "We believe the PLA garrison in Hong Kong will continue to be the anchor for stability and prosperity in Hong Kong."
Separately, about 190,000 armed police officers have been conducting summer drills in Guangdong, the southern Chinese province bordering Hong Kong, in exercises designed to prepare for National Day celebrations to be held in October. The exercises involved armored vehicles and helicopters.
While the drills themselves are not unusual, the location is. Analysts noted that the celebrations will be concentrated in Beijing, in the north of the country, and the soldiers began their drills by swearing to increase security in the days leading to the grand parade in Beijing.
In Beijing, the ruling Communist Party celebrated the anniversary of its military's establishment with great fanfare. President Xi Jinping, who is also head of the Communist Party and the Central Military Commission, said that building a well-rounded, world-class army was essential for "realizing the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."
"Amid a complicated international situation and responding to the demands of the day for a strong country with a strong military, the PLA must serve the historical mission of the Party," the PLA Daily newspaper said in an editorial published Thursday.
The party even opened a new television channel dedicated entirely to the PLA. The channel, which replaced one devoted to agriculture, featured military documentaries and interviews with veterans, as well as three episodes of a PLA-themed TV series, "Hot Blood Military Flag."
These exhortations for a strong military will heighten concerns in the United States about China's military expansion and its increasingly aggressive ambitions in the region.
China is pursuing "a military modernization program that seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future," the Pentagon wrote in its most recent National Defense Strategy.
"The most far-reaching objective of this defense strategy is to set the military relationship between our two countries on a path of transparency and non-aggression," it concluded.
Lyric Li contributed to this report.