PLA drill in Victoria Harbour seen as warning to Hong Kong protesters

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 4:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 4:02am

The People's Liberation Army staged its first air-and-sea drill of the year across Victoria Harbour yesterday in a move seen as a warning to protesters such as those who broke into the garrison's headquarters in Admiralty last month and to the emerging Occupy Central movement.

Two frigates and three helicopters carried out a co-ordinated patrol across the harbour yesterday morning, Xinhua reported.

It said the drill had made the PLA "more familiar with the air-and-sea situation of Hong Kong and has improved its ability to handle emergency situations".

Activists of independence group Hongkongers Come First broke into the Central Barracks in Admiralty on December 26, waved a colonial-era Hong Kong flag and called on the PLA to "get out".

Activists have protested outside the barracks since then.

China analyst Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the high-profile drill was intended to issue a strong warning to the protesters.

"The PLA not only wants to reflect the army's stern stance on the trespassing incident, but also to tell Hongkongers that they would be ready to carry out their duties if they are needed to handle the Occupy Central movement," he said.

But Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong said the garrison had been "restrained and humble" in conducting the drill to "avoid making the Hong Kong public nervous".

He said the navy's role had been important because the plan for a military pier on the Central waterfront was a focus of the barracks protest.

Shanghai-based naval expert Ni Lexiong said he believed the drill would be a deterrent to "disobedient forces" in Hong Kong. "Although it is just a regular drill, it was held at a sensitive time," he said. "Everyone in Hong Kong should inevitably connect the two things together.

"[The drill] was aimed at warning the public that Hong Kong could continue to enjoy a certain level of freedom, but should not challenge the central government's political authority, with military means being Beijing's last step to maintain Hong Kong's prosperity and stability."

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office expressed "grave concern" after the barracks trespassing incident, while former Basic Law Committee member Professor Wang Zhenmin said the protesters had "gone too far" and "tested the bottom line, harming relations between Hong Kong and Beijing".

The military also conducted an air-and-sea drill in the harbour last July. That drill was carried out less than a week after the annual anti-government march.