PLA drill may hold no hidden meaning

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 July, 2015, 12:23am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 July, 2015, 12:23am

The People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong has been maintaining a relatively low profile since the handover, so much so that any step it takes may arouse public attention and intense scrutiny. The latest example is an open military exercise. Staged in front of the local media for the first time in 18 years, the live-fire drill raised many eyebrows.

This has a lot to do with the recent atmosphere and happenings. The event on July 4 came just days after Beijing passed a sweeping national security law that stokes fears of more restrictions on freedoms, even though Hong Kong will not come under it. The drill was also seen by some as deterrent amid concerns over interference by foreign forces and the rise of pro-independence groups in the city. A Beijing-backed newspaper said the exercise could make the city aware of the importance of sovereignty and take the responsibility of national security seriously.

Whether there is any agenda behind remains unknown. But the exercise is also in line with the PLA's approach towards public engagement and greater transparency in recent years. While the garrison is still confined to the barracks most of the time, the curious can catch a glimpse of its daily life and equipment during open days from time to time. Local youth can also try out military training by joining their summer camps. The PLA's public image is by and large positive, as reflected in local opinion polls.

It can be argued that military forces do not put on a show for nothing. Countries around the world do like to flex their muscles when needed. This is the first time the local media has been invited to cover the exercise. While it may continue to arouse speculation in different sectors, it may be just a display of military power and capability to safeguard Hong Kong's and national interest. The garrison has established itself as a civilised and disciplined force over the past years. But it has yet to demonstrate the other side openly. The 45-minute display could be as much regular training as a show of military might.