Is this proof China is preparing an assault on Hong Kong?

Published by The Mail on Sunday (18th August, 2019)

Disturbing pictures obtained by The Mail on Sunday appear to show that China has secretly boosted its military deployment in the centre of Hong Kong as fears grow that it is poised to crush pro-democracy protests.

Ten large army tents are seen on a sports pitch inside the former British barracks now used by the Chinese garrison.

Eight camouflaged field tents and two much bigger ones cover the length of a sports pitch. Images taken earlier this year show they were not there at the time.

Beijing has become increasingly belligerent over the demonstrations, branding them terrorism. Thousands of its paramilitary police are openly conducting exercises just over the border in China.

The protests, which last week led to the closure of Hong Kong’s airport, one of the world’s busiest, have grown to become the biggest dissident challenge to China’s Communist leaders since the student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square 30 years ago.

The unrest on the streets of Hong Kong was sparked by a plan to allow extradition to China but has since spiralled into calls for greater democracy.

Last night there were fresh clashes between riot police and protesters for the 11th consecutive weekend.

Benedict Rogers, chairman of UK-based human rights group Hong Kong Watch, said the appearance of army tents in the heart of the city was ‘deeply alarming’. ‘It is possible it is all simply to threaten and intimidate. But I would not put anything past President Xi Jinping’s brutal regime and we must be prepared for the worst,’ he said.

Mr Rogers believes the ‘shocking brutality’ used by Hong Kong police, combined with its deployment of Triad gangsters to beat up protesters and probable infiltration by Chinese agents, might mean ‘more overt use of the army may be unnecessary’.

Other analysts have suggested that Beijing could use covert tactics, sending in forces wearing Hong Kong police uniforms.

President Trump confirmed last week that US intelligence had detected significant Chinese troop movement near the Hong Kong border.

China’s ambassador to Britain has warned that Beijing is prepared to use its power to ‘swiftly quell’ the unrest. ‘Should the situation in Hong Kong deteriorate further, the central government will not sit on its hands and watch,’ said Liu Xiaoming.

The head of the Chinese garrison in Hong Kong – believed to number 5,000 personnel – warned that the situation ‘should not be tolerated’. A disturbing video was released showing soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army on anti-riot exercises.

But the protesters remain defiant, believing this is their last chance to stop the steady erosion of freedoms supposed to be protected under the ‘one country, two systems’ deal agreed when Britain handed back the colony in 1997.

‘We must keep going – it is our duty,’ said Richie, 27, an office worker, during a rally on Friday night. ‘There are only two outcomes now – either we win some of our demands or we all die.’

The five key demands include universal suffrage, unconditional release of arrested protesters and an independent inquiry into police behaviour. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab provoked Chinese government anger when he called for ‘meaningful political dialogue’.

Protesters have been seen waving Hong Kong’s British colonial flags. One student carrying a Union Jack told me: ‘We need you to speak out over the breaking of the Sino-British declaration by our government.’

Last night, clashes broke out again after protesters confronted police at a station in Mong Kok in the Kowloon area of Hong Kong, taunting them and throwing eggs before officers responded with baton charges down streets thronged with shoppers.

Earlier, teachers demonstrated in torrential rain against police brutality while thousands more turned out for a pro-government demonstration.

Another flashpoint is likely today with a protest by the Civil Human Rights Front, which organised the first marches in June that brought two million people out on the streets against chief executive Carrie Lam’s plan to allow extradition.

Police rejected the group’s permit for today’s march through the city centre, allowing only a rally in a park that holds a maximum of 100,000. One activist said: ‘Stopping people from joining a peaceful march will only make people more angry.’

In recent days, China has stepped up pressure by intimidating prominent businesses, and blaming foreign agitators for inflaming trouble.

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