China’s PLA ‘to play bigger role in boosting Hong Kong patriotism’

Senior Beijing official for city’s affairs says troops a ‘strong backup’ for authorities during Occupy protests, as government hands over honorary title

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 3:26pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 3:28pm

One of Beijing’s top men on Hong Kong matters said the Chinese army’s local troops will play a bigger role in boosting the city’s patriotism, as the garrison celebrated the 20th anniversary of its establishment and the 1997 handover on Friday.

And Feng Wei, deputy director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said the soldiers had been a “strong backup” for the authorities during the pro-democracy Occupy protests that filled the city’s major streets in 2014.

Feng was joined by Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, local security officials and Beijing’s representatives in the city. Hundreds of soldiers and officers from the mainland were also among the 500 people at the ceremony at the People’s Liberation Army’s Stonecutters Island naval base.

A top representative from Beijing’s Central Military Commission presented one of the garrison’s combat squads with an honorary title recently bestowed by President Xi Jinping.

The squad was dubbed “model special operation company of the Hong Kong garrison”.

The move was seen as a morale-booster as the city marks two decades since its return from British to Chinese sovereignty.

In his 10-minute speech, Feng said the garrison had contributed a lot to promoting “the reunification of Hong Kong people’s hearts”.

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Beijing officials have lamented that although the city is politically reunified with China, its residents’ “hearts have yet to be reunified”, a reference to Hongkongers’ weaker sense of national identity compared to mainland Chinese.

“The garrison has an irreplaceable role in establishing national identity and pride. Apart from fulfilling its main responsibilities, it has organised activities such as the opening of barracks [and] summer camps for young people and university students,” Feng said.

“In the future, it will play an even bigger role in promoting the reunification of people’s hearts.”

Feng said his office and the garrison had worked together in “handling the city’s complicated situations”, such as the Occupy protests. The army was never directly involved in managing the protests.

“In handling major conflicts such as the illegal Occupy, the garrison has been our strong backup in tackling complicated situations,” he said.

Feng also said: “The garrison has a stabilising effect in Hong Kong. Its existence is the most direct manifestation of national sovereignty.”

Leung said the garrison had helped Hong Kong maintain its status as one of the safest cities in the world. “It also established a professional image... and won the love of Hong Kong people,” he said.

On Tuesday Leung, whose term will end on June 30, warned Hong Kong to be vigilant for anyone gradually trying to separate the city from China.

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That was a day after pro-independence Taiwanese lawmakers set up a legislative group in support of Hong Kong’s democratic development.

Hong Kong legislators and activists who travelled to Taipei to mark the group’s establishment – including Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Joshua Wong Chi-fung – said the caucus had nothing to do with sovereignty.