Noise of boots on the Hong Kong border. New images from mainland China show hundreds of law enforcement personnel participating Thursday, August 15, to maneuver in a stadium in Shenzhen, the metropolis located a few kilometers from Hong Kong. Movements that make fear Beijing intervention against the protest movement Hong Kong.
These images are in addition to many videos published by Chinese media in recent days, including several showing military convoys heading to Shenzhen. Satellite images, taken Monday but released Wednesday by Maxar Technologies, a US-based private company, also expose Chinese military vehicles parked inside the Shenzhen Bay Stadium, a 20,000-seat arena.
All signs that China would be ready to play a more direct role against the demonstrations that have shaken Hong Kong since early June. Or at least, this is what Beijing wants to believe the main players in the movement.
According to the official Chinese media, the recent troop movements are part of a series of pre-planned military exercises unrelated to the ongoing events in Hong Kong.
For Professor Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute, University of London, there is no doubt that the dissemination of such images is not trivial. "The goal is clearly to intimidate the people of Hong Kong and make it clear that if the Hong Kong authorities fail to control the situation, the Chinese will intervene," he told France 24.
So far, Beijing has merely monitored the situation in Hong Kong, where millions of people took to the streets to reject a bill allowing extradition to the mainland. A movement fueled by the general perception of a decline in freedoms since the Hong Kong handover in 1997.
However, faced with the gradual hardening of the movement, the multiplication of incidents and the inability of the Hong Kong executive, led by Carrie Lam, to stop the unrest, China has muscled his speech.
On Wednesday, following violent clashes at the Hong Kong International Airport, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Bureau of the Chinese government condemned "with the utmost firmness of quasi-terrorist acts". In early August, the Chinese Army garrison in Hong Kong released a video showing troops carefully filmed during riot drills.
"Beijing probably thinks that these images provide much needed support for Carrie Lam to restore order," said Dr. Kenneth Chan, Associate Professor of Political Science at Baptist University in Hong Kong, interviewed by France 24.
"The speculation and images of troop deployments are part of the typical communist-style psychological warfare designed to isolate and marginalize the most radical elements of the ongoing movement in Hong Kong," said the expert, who is also a former deputy. of the Hong Kong Civic Party.
"Not a threat in the air"
Although China's goal is mainly intimidation, it does not rule out the possibility of military intervention if the Chinese are forced to do so, according to Steve Tsang. "They would certainly prefer that the protesters just go home, but if Beijing believes that the authority of the Communist Party is in question, the Chinese will intervene," he said. "It's not a threat in the air, it's a real threat."
The threat could become even more serious as an event of great importance and highly symbolic for Beijing looms on the horizon. October 1st marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, a day that will be celebrated with great fanfare across the country. The protesters in Hong Kong could try to take advantage of this opportunity and parasite the event with a strong mobilisatoin, which could be interpreted as the provocation of too much by Beijing.
In case of Chinese intervention, thousands of soldiers would cross the border and the garrison of the Chinese army in Hong Kong, would be deployed, for the moment closed in its barracks and composed of 8 000 to 10 000 people. "If China intervenes, they [the troops stationed in China and the garrison of Hong Kong] would be deployed together," said Steve Tsang.
Under the principle of "one country, two systems" in which a large political autonomy is granted in Hong Kong by Beijing, the garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) can intervene only at the request of the Government of Hong Kong . However, Beijing's current influence on the former British colony is such that the legal hurdle is merely technical, according to Steve Tsang. "If the Chinese government wants the executive of Hong Kong to request an intervention from the PLA, it will do it," he said.
For China, however, such an approach is not without risk, and is still considered by most experts as a last resort for Beijing. Because a direct intervention would almost certainly sound the death knell of the principle "one country, two systems", and would upset the geopolitical status quo of the region.
The international repercussions of such a decision, combined with the risk of undermining Hong Kong's status as a commercial and financial hub, make it likely that Beijing will first explore all the other options available.
"The full and brutal subjugation of the city by force will be fatal to both Hong Kong's status and China's international reputation," said Dr. Kenneth Chan.
There is also the question of the resistance that Chinese troops might face against a Hong Kong population that has not hesitated to continue demonstrating despite an often violent repression.
"These are just speculations, but if they send troops, everything could end in 24 hours ... or not, pockets of resistance can be created and complicate their task," says Steve Tsang. "It will depend very much on the degree of violence used in Hong Kong, if any."