China’s paramilitary amasses near the border

Ever closer . . .

This week, thousands of China’s People’s Armed Police (PAP) began to assemble in the Chinese city of Shenzhen bordering Hong Kong. On August 15, soldiers were seen conducting exercises at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre, a sports stadium seven kilometres away from the border, in camouflage uniforms and carrying shields and batons. State-run media People’s Daily and The Global Times on Monday provided coverage with videos showing troop and armoured personnel carriers rolling into Shenzhen. Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of The Global Times, tweeted on the same day that he believes “it is a clear warning to rioters in Hong Kong.”

Armed force, but which one?

While people are busy interpreting Beijing’s motives in deploying armed forces near the special administered region’s border, the distinction between the PAP and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) seems to be somewhat clouded: The PLA is China’s national military force; the PAP is a paramilitary police force responsible for controlling riots and maintaining domestic security. While their operations tend to be separated, both are under the command of the Central Military Commission (CMC), and the PAP has been extensively used in other, deadly militarized operations against protesters, especially in Xinjiang and Tibet. The PLA, meanwhile, does have a 6,000-personnel garrison based in Hong Kong, present since 1997.

Talk about tactics . . .

Speculation has emerged over the past few weeks regarding the actual deployment of mainland armed forces in Hong Kong, with analysts and watchers gauging the situation to see when, if ever, Beijing would employ mass violence as a last resort. Notably, Beijing is well aware of the implications of its use of force in Hong Kong for the “One Country, Two Systems” constitutional principle, as direct intervention would represent a massive failure of a policy that is central to local and international acceptance of Hong Kong’s position within China. International repercussions at least as strong as those in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, could also be triggered by such a move. It is more likely that Beijing is aiming to use other tactics, including ‘sending a message' with its increased level of PAP activity near the border, and by activating more of the mainland-origin, Cantonese-speaking policemen it deployed to Hong Kong after the Umbrella Movement in 2014.