Chinese army personnel have helped to clear debris left by protesters at Hong Kong Baptist University in Kowloon Tong.
The cleanup operation began at 1pm on Saturday as community groups moved bricks and barricades which had accumulated on Junction Road over the past week. According to District Councillor Ho Hin-ming, who helped to organise the effort, the groups began to clear Renfield Road at around 4pm when – half an hour later – at least 50 personnel from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) emerged from the nearby barrack with buckets and brooms to shift the remaining items.
It is the first time troops have been seen on the streets since the protests began in June.
The soldiers were accompanied by a cameraman who filmed the exercise.
A man who appeared to be a commander, but declined to reveal his identity, said no one had requested the action. “Stopping violence and riots are the responsibility of each person,” he told reporters.
Hong Kong’s 24th week of unrest sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition agreement proposal with China was marked by clashes between pro-democracy protesters and police at university campuses across the city. Multiple roadblocks had been set up around Baptist University, obstructing traffic.
Some of the crowd cheered as the soldiers cleared the area.
Three women on the scene told HKFP they were not asked to join the cleanup effort but did so voluntarily. They added that they were not residents in the district.
When asked if they had seen any call to clear the roads on messaging apps beforehand, they declined to respond.
Hong Kong riot police and firefighters arrived to help for a few minutes while the soldiers were clearing the debris. They did not respond to reporters’ questions about why they only appeared after the PLA.
Article 9 of the Garrison Law stipulates that the garrison shall not interfere in the local affairs of Hong Kong, whilst Article 11 states that the garrison shall notify the local government in advance of any military activities, such as training exercises and manoeuvres if the public interest is affected.
Pro-democracy lawmakers issued a joint statement strongly condemning the incident, saying the incident violated the law.
“The SAR government must immediately explain to Hong Kong residents as to whether it has, in accordance to article 14 of the garrison law, asked the central government to request the garrison in Hong Kong to assist in maintaining social order and conduct relief work,” they said. “If yes, the SAR government has continued to fall, escaping from resolving political problems by political means.”
They added that the government and the garrison have ignored laws restricting military involvement in Hong Kong. “They want to gradually rationalise the PLA’s actions in Hong Kong,” the lawmakers said.
Last year, 600 people from the local PLA garrison, the Chinese foreign ministry in Hong Kong, the China Liaison Office and state-owned enterprises helped clear fallen trees from the MacLehose Trail, after Typhoon Mangkhut swept the city. The group included 400 soldiers in uniforms.
It was the first such action by the Hong Kong garrison since the 1997 Handover. But at the time, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said that the public should not over-interpret the incident, as the soldiers were volunteering and the Hong Kong government did not request their help.
Hong Kong Free Press relies on direct reader support. Help safeguard independent journalism and press freedom as we invest more in freelancers, overtime, safety gear & insurance during this summer’s protests. 10 ways to support us.