According to a statement by the People’s Liberation Army, its Hong Kong garrison’s 6,000-strong force “seized an opportunity” during the passage of Super Typhoon Mangkhut to undertake a mock exercise where it faced an emergency call-out to steer dozens of warships and helicopters to shelter.

The PLA division in the former British colony also noted that its troops had always remained deployment-ready throughout a typhoon to save lives and protect people’s properties and their valuables, should the Hong Kong government request their involvement in disaster relief. 

The city’s government has never asked for the PLA’s help since its handover to Chinese rule in 1997.

No serious casualties have been reported in Hong Kong despite the fact that Mangkhut is the strongest typhoon to have hit the city since meteorological records began in the 1940s. The city suffered damage to roads and railways due to fallen trees as well as experiencing some flooding in low-lying areas.

The China News Service reported on Sunday that the PLA’s Type 037 and Type 056 corvettes as well as Type 074 landing ships had been evacuated from a naval base on Stonecutters Island in West Kowloon. They were relocated to a nearby typhoon shelter, and the garrison’s Z-8 and Z-9 military utility helicopters were also moved into hangars before the typhoon hit Hong Kong.

Other equipment on the force’s firing range in the western New Territories as well as the radar and antenna structures on top of the 957-meter Tai Mo Shan, one of the highest peaks in southern China, were all reinforced ahead of the typhoon’s arrival.

A PLA spokesman stressed that its warships and helicopters were strong enough to withstand a Category 12 typhoon and the evacuation drill was meant to test the force’s emergency-response mechanisms and chain of command. He emphasized that the force always stood ready to mobilize its solders to respond to a typhoon and save the lives of Hong Kong people, whenever requested by the government of the semi-autonomous city.

In August 2017, more than 1,000 members of the PLA’s garrison stationed in the former Portuguese enclave of Macau rushed to offer assistance in the aftermath of devastating flooding brought by Super Typhoon Hato. The typhoon claimed 10 lives and left hundreds hospitalized.

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In August 2017 PLA soldiers cleared debris from Macau streets and performed disinfection work. Photos: Weibo

The Chinese troops scoured ruins and debris for survivors and sprayed deodorant and disinfectant in muddy streets as requested by the Macau government.

That operation marked the first PLA deployment since Macau’s 1999 handover.

When asked if Hong Kong would one day seek help from the Chinese military in the event of such a disaster, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would not answer hypothetical questions, adding that there were mechanisms for PLA involvement in disaster relief or maintaining social order in place, but that she had every confidence in the city’s own first responders.

Local lawmaker Regina Ip, a former security minister, said Hong Kong had in place a contingency response that had proved highly reliable. Loss of life has been extremely rare during severe typhoons in recent decades thanks to its world-class infrastructure and first responders.