PLA ready to sign up Hong Kong recruits
Gary Cheung, Choi Chi-yuk and Greg Torode
PLA Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde has for the first time said that Hong Kong people are welcome to join the army.
But legal hurdles, such as how the mainland's military service law can be applied in the special administrative region, have to be cleared before Hongkongers can sign up.
Xu Guangyu, a retired People's Liberation Army major general, said it was only a matter of time before Hongkongers were recruited into the world's largest military force. He suggested they be allowed to serve in military units in the city before being sent to other areas.
In an interview with the Hong Kong Commercial Daily published yesterday, Chen, a member of the Central Military Commission, said he would welcome Hongkongers joining its ranks.
It is the first time since the handover in 1997 that a high-ranking PLA officer has given the green light for Hongkongers to join the army.
Lieutenant General Qi Jianguo, Chen's assistant, said allowing Hongkongers to join the PLA would be feasible 'if the Hong Kong government resolves the legal issues'.
Some Hong Kong people have a negative impression of the PLA after the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Beijing in 1989. But others have gradually warmed to the PLA's Hong Kong garrison.
A survey by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme in April, found that 52 per cent of respondents were 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' with the garrison's performance, compared with 36 per cent in a similar poll in July 1997.
Under the mainland's Military Service Law, all male citizens of the People's Republic can enlist in the PLA and are obliged to perform military service if required in time of need. But the law is not applied in Hong Kong.
Professor Yao Jianguo, from the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, said one feasible approach to solve the legal obstacles would be for the Hong Kong government to propose to the National People's Congress Standing Committee that the Military Service Law be added to the Basic Law's list of national laws applied in Hong Kong.
His views were echoed by Basic Law Committee member Lau Nai-keung. 'Joining the country's army is the right of the Chinese. Hong Kong people are deprived of their legitimate rights under present restrictions,' he said.
Xu, a member of the central government-backed China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said: 'Allowing Hong Kong to serve in the PLA would enhance their identification with the country ... it would not be very difficult to overcome the legal obstacles.'
Grace Ling Yu-shih, an honorary researcher at the China University of Political Science and Law, said it would be more appropriate for the NPC Standing Committee to make an interpretation of the Military Service Law to allow people from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan to join the PLA.
'Adding the law to the Basic Law annex would arouse concern among some Hong Kong people that more mainland laws would be applied in the city in future,' she said.
Ling said she had encouraged her son, who is studying in England, to join the PLA to serve the country.
London-based PLA expert Gary Li said he believed any local recruitment would need special regulations to allow a Hong Kong force to remain within the city - a vast difference to the way young soldiers are recruited and deployed on the mainland.
'I struggle to think how Hong Kong people, used to their freedoms and lifestyle would fit in with a local PLA garrison in Inner Mongolia full of young soldiers from the villages,' said Li, who monitors security issues for intelligence firm Exclusive Analysis.
'The PLA has a good track record of taking tough young boys from the countryside and turning them into fine soldiers - they are generally posted far from their home counties, deliberately putting them out of their comfort zone, and sometimes are given financial inducements for deployments in the desert and so on.
'It is hard to imagine quite how that would work with recruits from Hong Kong.'
Li said an auxiliary Hong Kong force could be based here to support PLA troops that are rotated through the city from Guangdong.
The number of people estimated to be in the People's Liberation Army force, with 2.25 million of those part of the active standing army