Troops from the three branches of the Chinese military deployed in Hong Kong staged yet another drill in the heart of the territory’s Victoria Harbor last week – regularly scheduled but more intensive than usual and serving as a warning during a week when violent protests were flaring up again.

The war-game included a search and rescue mission as well as practice for intercepting suspicious vessels. To practice seizing control and conducting searches, rifle-brandishing commandos rappelled down from a helicopter.

In a separate exercise, marines reportedly made landfall, established beachheads and took over a port in an unspecified location in the city.

Videos posted by the People’s Liberation Army’s Hong Kong Garrison on its official Weibo account said that around 1,000 soldiers were mustered for the drill and sea-air patrols in waters between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula.

The videos said the uniformed personnel were there to hone their skills in emergency response, troop delivery and mock attack and defense. Various groups comprising commanders and troops were pitted against one another.

PLA choppers hovers above Hong Kong. Photos: Handout

State broadcaster China Central Television also quoted a deputy commander of the Qinzhou, a 1,500-ton Type 056 corvette whose homeport is on Hong Kong’s Stonecutters Island, as saying that the quarterly drill featured real combat scenarios and lasted longer than previous routine exercises.

The Qinzhou also sailed to the South China Sea before Christmas and joined other PLA warships in a naval drill in waters south of Hainan Island, where Chinese President Xi Jinping had just commissioned the force’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, the Shandong, on December 17.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam (third from left), PLA Hong Kong garrison chief commander Chen Daoxiang (first from left) and other guests attend a reception in August marking the 92nd anniversary of the establishment of the PLA. Photo: Xinhua

The latest PLA move in and above the Victoria Harbor came as a new series of battles occurred between Hong Kong’s anti-government protesters and riot police in streets and inside shopping malls during the Christmas holidays.

Some fear those fights could be a harbinger of more chaos to come in the new year. This is after weeks of calm, a lull in the protests following a thumping win for the city’s pro-democratic bloc in November’s district council election.

There has also come a renewed warning from Maria Tam, a former lawmaker and convenor of the Hong Kong delegation to the Chinese parliament. In an op-ed in the People’s Daily she cautioned that one should never mistake the thousands of Chinese soldiers garrisoned in the city for “mere scarecrows” and that one should know the PLA always has a decisive role to play when push comes to shove in stabilizing the protest-hit city.

In November, US President Donald Trump claimed in a wide-ranging phone interview with Fox News Channel that “if it weren’t for me, Hong Kong would have been obliterated in 14 minutes.”

Trump boasted in a recent interview with Fox News Channel that he had saved Hong Kong: “If it won’t for me, thousands of people would have been killed in Hong Kong.”  

When interviewed by the channel’s talk program Fox & Friends, Trump alleged that Chinese President Xi Jinping had amassed in neighboring Guangdong province “a million soldiers, outside of Hong Kong, who are not going only because I asked him” not to dispatch them. Trump said he had told Xi that China would be making a big mistake that would have a tremendous negative impact on the upcoming phase one trade deal.

Beijing now maintains 6,000-7,000 solders in Hong Kong for defense, following the 1997 handover of the former British colony to Chinese rule.

The personnel are supposed to be strictly confined to their assigned barracks, bounded by both a specific garrison law and Hong Kong’s local laws and banned from meddling in the running of the city under Beijing’s promise of “one country, two systems” and a high degree of autonomy.

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