The head of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) garrison in Hong Kong has commented on the city’s protests for the first time, saying that they cannot be tolerated and that the army was determined to protect national security and sovereignty.

“Recently, Hong Kong saw a series of violent radical incidents, which seriously disrupted Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, seriously challenged Hong Kong’s rule of law and social order, seriously threatened the life and property of Hong Kong citizens, and seriously violated the bottom line of One Country, Two Systems,” said commander Chen Daoxiang.

“This cannot be tolerated and we express strong condemnation.”

Chen also said that the PLA’s Hong Kong garrison was a “heroic force,” and has kept its character as a “people’s army” as a “linchpin for Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”

Chen was speaking at a reception celebrating the 92nd anniversary of the establishment of the PLA, where the army also debuted a promotional video showing Chinese troops responding to protesters.

The three-minute video included a scene where a soldier shouts a warning in Cantonese: “All consequences are at your own risk.” Troops were seen forcing back protesters in an anti-riot drill, displaying a red warning flag with the words “stop charging or we use force” – a banner similar to those used by the local police force.

Photo: PLA screenshot.

In a chapter of the video titled “maintaining order,” soldiers with riot gear could be seen clearing protesters, firing water cannons and tear gas, and conducting mass arrests. In another chapter titled “anti-terrorism,” soldiers were seen advancing on a car resembling a New Territories green taxi.

The video ended with clips of citizens praising the PLA in Cantonese, and the slogan “Never forget our original aspirations to protect Hong Kong.”

Wednesday’s PLA reception also saw Chief Executive Carrie Lam, her predecessor Tung Chee-hwa, director of the China Liaison Office Wang Zhimin and police chief Stephen Lo in attendance.

In his speech, army leader Chen also expressed support for Lam and the Hong Kong police in maintaining law and order.

Photo: PLA video screenshot.

Earlier on Wednesday, Tung had accused the United States and Taiwan as being the culprits behind recent protests. He said that the challenge to the Hong Kong government was “unprecedented” and called it a “riot.”

“This political storm escalated quickly and is massive in scale. Its organisation appears loose but is intricate and hidden, and is clearly different from past movements,” he said. “There is reason to believe that there are masterminds behind the storm, and may be related to the involvement of foreign forces, with signs pointing to Taiwan and the United States.”

‘Anti-mask law’ proposed

Maria Tam, Beijing loyalist and vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, said on Wednesday that Hong Kong should consider a law banning face masks, and internet filtering to target messages that “incite criminal behaviour.”

Tam said on a radio programme that Hong Kong’s situation could be solved by Carrie Lam reforming her administration, as well as new legislation.

Maria Tam.

“For example, we don’t have an anti-mask law, and there are handbooks on attacking police circulating on the internet, when I saw them I was very scared,” she said. “A lot of these messages are inciting criminal behaviour, and we have no regulation or defence.”

Making reference to a popular forum, she added that young people were greatly influenced by the internet: “They would read LIHKG at night instead of the speech by the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office… In terms of the internet, if there are messages that threaten others’ safety or social order, shouldn’t we consider how to filter them?”

The idea of a law banning face masks was previously floated after the 2016 Mong Kok unrest. At the time, DAB party lawmaker Elizabeth Quat said the police could spray protesters with coloured dye and ban the use of masks.

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.