In mid-June, the commander of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) garrison in Hong Kong assured a Pentagon official that Chinese troops will not intervene with Hong Kong’s internal affairs. However, a month later, a military drill was held near Hong Kong and it was said to be a preparation for handling the chaos in the city.
The 74th Army Group of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) revealed on its social media account that several brigades ran a drill in Zhanjiang, a coastal city in Guangdong Province near Hong Kong, mocking an emergency response to riots and terrorist attacks.
The 74th Army Group posted photos of the July 21 drill on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, and explained that the drill was intended to “ensure soldiers’ safety in an open space military training field and to ensure effective handling of emergent events.” The post did not link the drill with the escalating conflicts in Hong Kong.
However, Hong Kong cable television Now News reported on the drill on July 22 and quoted a military commentator and retired PLA colonel, Yue Gang, as saying that the drill serves as a preparation in case the social unrest in Hong Kong further worsens—it means Chinese troops would be dispatched to Hong Kong if needed.
The city has seen mass protests since June as Hongkongers express anxiety over an extradition bill that would allow any country, including mainland China, to seek extradition of criminal suspects. Many fear that the proposal would allow the Chinese regime to put individuals on trial in Chinese courts, where rule of law is not observed.
Two Different Voices From the Chinese Military
During a visit by a Pentagon official in Hong Kong on June 13, Major General Chen Daoxiang, commander of the PLA forces in Hong Kong, affirmed that Chinese troops would not be deployed against Hong Kong protesters, Reuters reported in early July.
Simon Lau, a senior media professional and former Hong Kong central policy unit consultant, told the Hong Kong edition of The Epoch Times that he believes General Chen Daoxiang’s promise to the Pentagon official must have come from Chinese leader Xi Jinping because Chen made the promise immediately after June 12—when Hong Kong police started attacking demonstrators with batons, rubber bullets, and beanbags.
“This is because Xi must be very worried that some people may take the opportunity to create chaos, making the situation go out of control. That would be the biggest threat to Xi,” Lau explained.
Chen is a former military leader of the Nanjing Military Region in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province. He received a series of promotions after Xi took over power as chairman of the Central Military Commission. In April this year, Xi appointed Chen to commander of the PLA Garrison in Hong Kong.
The Nanjing Military Region is believed to be Xi’s inner circle, because Xi promoted numerous military leaders from this military unit to take important positions in the PLA.
The recent anti-riot drill and the straightforward comment by the Chinese regime’s mouthpiece media outlets, however, send a clear message that the Chinese military is getting ready to intervene in the Hong Kong protests.
So who is behind the PLA drill and the threat to send troops into Hong Kong, which is an outright move to confront Xi’s decision? Furthermore, this is an outright violation of the Hong Kong Garrison Law, which states that, “Military forces stationed by the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for defense shall not interfere in the local affairs of the Region.”
History of the 74th Army Group
The PLA’s Ground Force 74th Army Group, formerly the 42nd Army Group, is a corps-sized military formation of the PLA, active since the late 1940s. It is part of the Guangzhou Military Region.
The 74th Army Group and Guangzhou Military Region have close connections to former Communist Party and military leader Jiang Zemin.
Since Xi Jinping launched a sweeping anti-corruption campaign in 2012, a number of former military leaders of the 42nd Army Group have been investigated and put behind bars. Most of the officials ensnared in Xi’s anti-corruption campaign had ties to Jiang.
For example, Fang Fenghui and Zhang Yang were both military leaders at Guangzhou Military Region before they were appointed to the top post in PLA in 2012. Fang and Zhang became targets of the anti-corruption investigation at the same time. They were both sacked and investigated in August 2017. Zhang committed suicide on Nov. 23 of the same year, and Yang was convicted in January 2018 of accepting and offering bribes and of having a huge obscure source of assets. He was sentenced to life in prison by China’s military court.
Zhang was a close crony of Xu Caihou, a former vice chairman of the Central Military Commision, and Fang was an intimate crony of former military leader Guo Boxiong, a retired top Chinese General. Xu and Guo were part of Jiang’s faction and both held important positions in China’s military for nearly two decades. Guo was purged in April 2015 and sentenced to life in July 2016. Xu was purged in March 2014, and died of cancer in March 2016.