Tough shore leave rules for Chinese navy personnel during Liaoning’s Hong Kong visit
The crew from China’s first aircraft carrier will be prohibited from enjoying Western-style leisure activities during city handover anniversary visit
When US warships made port calls to Hong Kong in the past, bars and restaurants in Wan Chai, Central and Tsim Sha Tsui could expect a windfall as personnel had a holiday in town.
But that won’t be the case when China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, makes its maiden port call to the city in early July.
PLA personnel are unlikely to be free to roam around the city and enjoy Western-style leisure activities, analysts said. However, it is possible that some soldiers would be able to leave the ship in organised activities – such as doing community service in the city to engage Hongkongers, analysts said.
The Liaoning and its flotilla have over 2,000 members on board. The ship will visit Hong Kong on July 7 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover to China.
When making a port visit to Hong Kong, US sailors are allowed to experience local culture, and one of their favourite pastimes is to have a drink in a Wan Chai bar. Some also reunite with families for a holiday in town.
But this time, Wan Chai, a region of Hong Kong Island famous for its bars and restaurants – and which has been profiting and thriving for decades from business provided by sailors from visiting ships – would be unlikely to see faces from the Liaoning.
That’s because every Liaoning carrier soldier needs to abide by Interior Service Regulations which restrict communication and interaction between people inside and outside the Chinese military, making Liaoning personnel less free than US soldiers.
“When interacting with foreigners, soldiers should strictly act according to the related regulations and unauthorised interaction is not allowed,” the Interior Service Regulations say. “Soldiers shall not engage in improper and unnecessary communication with local staff and shall not participate in unhealthy consumer entertainment.”
In addition to being restricted from interacting with people outside the army during their service, the PLA soldiers are on a mission in town instead of holidays.
It is also very unlikely the PLA would arrange any Hong Kong family reunion because of an essential difference between US and PLA personnel: US carriers are globally deployed on long-term duty but the Liaoning will not be far from home.
“The Liaoning still spends a majority of its time at home port Qingdao. And when in Hong Kong it would just be one or two of weeks after the beginning of a mission,” said military commentator Song Zhongping.
“Until the Chinese aircraft carriers begin to carry out global duties, there is not much urgent need to fly families over here.”
But although leisure activities are highly unlikely to occur, some Liaoning soldiers can still have a look at the city. Beijing may have organised some community service programme to allow personnel to build a friendly public image, military expert Zhou Chenming said.
“Some of the soldiers in Liaoning might join organised activities in Hong Kong to interact with common Hong Kong citizens. This is a good opportunity to foster friendship and build an amicable image,” Zhou said.
Personnel from PLA Hong Kong Garrison have visited elders and kids in nursing homes and kindergarten programmes in town from time to time.