When Britain formally signed the pact that handed over Hong Kong to Beijing, China’s armies made a small dent there – usually confined to barracks in the central district and other smaller areas throughout the territory. As the deal nears its twentieth anniversary, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is making drills, war-games and an ever-growing symbolic presence. A recent article in the Communist Party Journal promises the military will take an even more active role as it carries its mission to “prevail in ideological combat … and stay absolute loyal, pure and reliable.”
The article was penned amid rumors that China’s massive Liaoning warship will soon be making a visit to Hong Kong. The Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily in Hong Kong cited unidentified sources who said the Liaoning would port there on July 7. China’s state-run news agency confirmed it left eastern Chinese port of Qingdao on Sunday escorted by two destroyers on a routine mission. Sing Tao said the fighter-jet-equipped show of force would be open for visits by local Hong Kong residents.
But, some analysts see a practical use for the ship and the growing Chinese military.
“A well trained and equipped military force is better positioned to deal with threats to Beijing’s control of the city than a poorly trained symbolic garrison unit,” said Timothy R. Heath, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corp think tank, in an interview with CNN. “The professionalization of the PLA garrison force also serves a political purpose in instilling patriotism among Hong Kong residents and reminding them of China’s power and strength.”
Ha added, “The Liaoning’s visit signals Beijing’s desire to promote patriotic, pro-China feelings among its young people. The PRC government wants to reinforce the message that it has made China strong and will lead the country to revitalization as a great power.”
The PLA’s growing presence can be traced back to the last few years. Last October, it spent the second straight year running military war games simulating China’s defeat of an occupying force in Hong Kong’s New Territories.