PLA role questioned

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 January, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 January, 1996, 12:00am

LEGISLATORS' questions about the future People's Liberation Army (PLA) garrison in Hong Kong went unanswered yesterday.

Secretary for Security Peter Lai Hing-ling said only that the PLA deployment would be an item of discussion in the next Sino-British Joint Liaison Group (JLG) meeting.

Members attending the Legislative Council security panel meeting were eager to know under what circumstances the mainland troops would be mobilised to take charge of public order.

Democratic Party member Cheung Man-kwong asked if the JLG had ever talked about the definition of the 'need' to mobilise mainland troops.

'Will there be an internal mechanism [within the Army] to vet any request for mobilisation? Fear will be spread among Hong Kong people without a definite answer,' he said.

Party colleague Fred Li Wah-ming also demanded Mr Lai reveal the actual size of the garrison.

'When the Chinese officials say the size of the Chinese garrison will not be larger than that of the British, is that compared with the present dwindling British garrison or a previous figure?' he asked.

And independent Emily Lau Wai-hing said the definition of garrison had to be clarified.

Mr Lai told legislators the PLA deployment was not at the top of the agenda of the JLG's defence experts' group.

'The JLG now needs to resolve a practical problem: the detailed arrangements of handing over up to 17 military camps to the garrison,' he said.

'Discussion of PLA deployment should involve the future Special Administrative Region chief executive designate, the PLA and the Chinese Government.' 'Before 1997, it is still the Hong Kong and British governments and the British garrison's responsibility and after 1997, it will be the Chinese Government's and the PLA's.' Mr Lai stressed: 'I do not frankly envisage that the security forces in Hong Kong would be unable to deal with law and order and require mobilisation of the PLA.' Some members, including Democrat Andrew Cheng Kar-foo and independent Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, were dissatisfied with Mr Lai's remarks. Mr Cheng said it should be the Security Branch's job to refer members' concerns to the JLG and initiate discussions.

Mr Lai eventually promised members the JLG would discuss PLA deployment at the next meeting.