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China's PLA hints it will stay out of HK turmoil

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published on July 9, 2019 - Duration: 02:42s

China's PLA hints it will stay out of HK turmoil

The Chinese military commander responsible for Hong Kong has assured a Pentagon official that Chinese troops will not interfere in the city's affairs – an apparent signal that they will stay in their barracks amid the city's political crisis.

Ryan Brooks reports.

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China's PLA hints it will stay out of HK turmoil

The Chinese military recently told a Pentagon official it won't 'interfere' in Hong Kong's affairs.

It seems to be a signal the People's Liberation Army will stay in their barracks despite the city's political crisis.

Reuters exclusively learned of the meeting from people briefed on the discussion.

They say it was U.S. official David Helvey who spoke with the Chinese commander in charge of Hong Kong-based troops.

Helvey met him at the PLA's headquarters in the city on June 13, not far from where, a day before, police violently clashed with protesters.

The role of the PLA in Hong Kong affairs has been a question mark ever since 1997, when they arrived in within hours of the handover from British rule.

Reuters Greg Torode says news of the meeting offers a window into Beijing's military.

(SOUNDBITE) REUTERS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT GREG TORODE SAYING: "It confirms what many people believe about the rather low profile PLA presence in Hong Kong that is there is no appetite either in Beijing or in Hong Kong for those soldiers to leave their barracks.

I think there is an acknowledgement on both sides and this meeting gives a signal too that that any thought of them having to leave their barracks to help the police maintain control or even impose some sort of martial law is very much a bridge too far." Since the meeting - protests have continued, including when activists smashed their way into the city's legislature.

A source tied to the Chinese military said- there was still no plans for the PLA to get involved.

And legal scholars say it would take a total breakdown of law and order for them to jump in.

(SOUNDBITE) REUTERS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT GREG TORODE SAYING: "While people have acknowledged it would be a very high threshold, What worries them is in the sort of medium term as these protests continue.

If protesters are emboldened and really start somehow stirring up trouble across the border influencing political movements across the border sort of crossing Xi Jinping's core interests then it could be a slightly different scenario.

Some people also also wonder whether Beijing might try to come up with an interim step in case of real trouble where they would support the Hong Kong police by perhaps bringing over the People's Armed Police which is a paramilitary force rather than unleashing the soldiers who are based here." Foreign envoys estimate the PLA's Hong Kong garrison is 8,000 to 10,000 people.

Those include troops both around the territory and on the mainland China side of the border.

The Chinese Defense Ministry and the garrison did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

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