The Hong Kong garrison of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducted a live-ammunition military exercise in the city last week in a show of military might amid unprecedented backlash against its Beijing-backed government.
The high-profile drills, conducted by the PLA’s land, naval and air forces at three bases in the territory, were part of an open day event marking the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China.
Images and video footage of the demonstration included search and rescue drills in waters, marching formations, close quarter combat and live fire exercise with assault rifles and machine guns.
The military exercise reportedly took place last Wednesday.
An estimated 6,000 PLA troops are stationed in the former British colony, but they generally keep a low profile and are rarely seen in uniform in public.
The PLA said the exercise was geared towards enhancing the combat-readiness and emergency response capabilities of the Hong Kong-based troops, according to CCTV.
The open house comes amid weeks of protests in Hong Kong against a controversial legislation that would allow extraditions to mainland China.
Yesterday, hundreds of protesters stormed Hong Kong’s legislature, defacing portraits of lawmakers and spray-painting pro-democracy slogans in the chamber before vacating it as riot police cleared surrounding streets with tear gas and then moved inside.
Protesters whacked away at thick glass windows until they shattered and then pried open steel security gates.
Police initially retreated as the protesters entered, avoiding a confrontation and giving them the run of the building, during which they spray painted slogans calling for a democratic election of Hong Kong’s leader and denouncing the extradition legislation. A colonial-era flag was also draped across the podium.
The dramatic scenes were a stark contrast to a more peaceful demonstration that took place earlier in the day, when around 550,000 people marched through the streets of Hong Kong during the annual July 1 march.
The demonstrations since early June reflect mounting frustration with chief executive Carrie Lam and her government for not responding to demands from activists that were originally sparked by a government attempt to pass the extradition law. Lam has shelved the bills but not agreed to scrap them altogether as opponents insist she does.
In a 4am response today, Lam condemned the ‘extremely violent’ storming of the Legislative Council building, which she described as ‘heart-breaking and shocking’.
LegCo president Andrew Leung has said that all meetings scheduled for the next two weeks will be cancelled because of the extensive damage, including to fire safety and power supply, to the building.
Hong Kong returned to China under a ‘one country, two systems’ rule that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.
Beijing denies interfering, but for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.
China has been angered by criticism from Western capitals, including Washington and London, about the legislation. Beijing said on Monday that Britain had no responsibility for Hong Kong any more and was opposed to its ‘gesticulating’ about the territory.
The European Union on Monday called for restraint and dialogue to find a way forward.
A US State Department spokeswoman urged all sides to refrain from violence.
‘Hong Kong’s success is predicated on its rule of law and respect for fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly,’ she said.