Battle of Castle Peak a shot across Hong Kong's bow by the PLA
Out of sight, out of mind. That used to be how the People's Liberation Army operated during the first two post-handover administrations so as not to scare the little children and pan-democrats.
But on Saturday, many of Hong Kong's luminaries had a live demonstration of PLA firepower with a full-scale military exercise in Tuen Mun, the first of its kind held in full view of the media.
The press had no inkling of what was about to happen until live bombs and bullets started exploding over the Castle Peak firing range. The journalists present were given a rare front-row-centre view of the PLA's air and land power.
Besides the usual suspects such as the new police chief and security secretary, among the great and the good invited to see the fun and mayhem were the heads of the Chinese and Hong Kong universities, Professors Joseph Sung Jao-yiu and Peter Mathieson. Both universities happen to be the traditional hotbeds of student activism, with HKU being a centre of Occupy Central and the "localist" independence movement. One wonders if the two good professors watched the display of firepower with pride or alarm.
The pro-establishment camp is divided over the significance of the PLA exercise. The party line espoused by attendees such as Legislative and Executive Council member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, herself a former security secretary, was that there was nothing to fear, adding the pro-independence movement here was advocated by such a tiny minority you hardly need "the PLA to deal with it".
But coming just days after Beijing enacted the new sweeping national security law, and so close to July 1, the live-ammo drill is pretty much what you might call "in your face" for Hong Kong.
Is this the new posture of the PLA in Hong Kong after being so harmless and quiet all these years?
Some leftist military commentators certainly think so.
Military writer Ma Dingsheng said the drill was meant to be a show of force to deter any nascent pro-independence movement and to remind Hong Kong people of their responsibility to safeguard national security and unity.
One way or another, the firepower on Castle Peak looked literally like a shot across the bow.