China publicly addressed the of deploying the Chinese military to contain the public unrest in Hong Kong for the first time on Wednesday, suggesting that soldiers could be sent in at the request of Hong Kong officials.
China’s defence ministry said it is closely following the developments in the former British colony and pointed out that the government of Hong Kong has the legal right to call in Chinese military to maintain social order in the city.
The comments came at a press conference introducing China new defence white paper. Asked how the ministry would handle the situation in Hong Kong, a spokesman said only that “Article 14 of the garrison law has clear stipulations”.
Although he did not explicitly offer to send in the military, the comments mark a change in tone in recent days following alarming violence blamed on triad gangs in Hong Kong at the weekend.
Beijing has up until now suggested that Hong Kong authorities can deal with the growing unrest themselves, and has refrained from mentioning Article 14 and the highly controversial deployment of soldiers.
Article 14 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, states: “Military forces stationed by the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for defence shall not interfere in the local affairs of the Region.”
It goes on: “The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may, when necessary, ask the Central People’s Government for assistance from the garrison in the maintenance of public order and in disaster relief.”
The People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison has been stationed in Hong Kong since Britain returned the sovereignty of Hong Kong to China in 1997. The troop is responsible for defence duties in Hong Kong and safeguarding national sovereignty.
Hong Kong government documents have estimated the number of troops is between 8,000 to 10,000 personnel.