China sent fresh troops to Hong Kong Thursday as part of a “routine” garrison rotation, as the financial hub braced for a new round of violent protests after police refused permission for a mass rally at the weekend.
Hong Kong has been mired in over three months of political crisis, with police and protesters engaging in increasingly violent clashes, prompting Beijing to ramp up its rhetoric and a public relations campaign against the anti-government movement.
Chinese state media on Thursday broadcast a video of armoured personnel carriers and trucks driving across the Hong Kong border, describing it as a routine rotation of the garrison stationed in the semi-autonomous city.
“The Hong Kong Garrison of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army on Thursday morning completed the 22nd rotation since it began garrisoning Hong Kong in 1997,” Xinhua news agency reported.
“Before coming… we learned about the situation of Hong Kong,” PLA officer Lieutenant-Colonel Yang Zheng, said in a slick PR video. “We’ve strengthened our training… to make sure we can fulfill our defence duties.”
The rotation came less than 24 hours after police denied permission for a new mass rally planned for Saturday that was expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people to the streets — the 13th consecutive week of protests.
Police have previously denied permission for rallies to take place, but the orders have largely been ignored.
In a letter to the rally organisers, the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), police said they feared some participants would commit “violent and destructive acts”.
Protesters have so far carried out “arson and large scale road blockades” and “used petrol bombs, steel balls, bricks, long spears, metal poles, as well as various self-made weapons to destroy public property”, the letter said of previous rallies.
Last Sunday police deployed water cannon for the first time and one officer fire a live-round warning shot from his sidearm to fend off radical protesters after a sanctioned rally erupted into some of the worst violence of the past three months.