BEIJING – Beijing can use troops stationed in Hong Kong at the request of the local government to maintain law and order, the Chinese defense ministry clarified Wednesday after weeks of pro-democracy protests.
“Article 14 of the Garrison Law has clear stipulations,” the ministry’s spokesperson Wu Qian said at a press conference in response to a question by reporters on whether Chinese armed forces would intervene in the special administrative region.
According to provisions of the article, the Hong Kong government may seek help from the central government for “maintenance of public order and in disaster relief.”
“We are closely following the developments in Hong Kong, especially the violent attack against the central government liaison office by radicals on July 21,” said Wu, referring to an incident on Sunday when demonstrators vandalized the office by throwing paint on the national emblem and using spray paint on the boundary walls of the premises.
“Some behavior of the radical protesters is challenging the authority of the central government (in Beijing) and the bottom line of ‘one country, two systems.’ This is intolerable,” said the spokesperson.
Under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, China promised to maintain Hong Kong’s democratic structures for 50 years after recovering sovereignty over the island from the United Kingdom in 1997.
Over the past seven weeks, Hong Kong has been the scene of demonstrations that began as protests against a contentious extradition bill that, according to lawyers and human rights activists, would allow the extradition to mainland China of fugitives accused of certain crimes.
The bill’s opponents said that the new law could mean that local activists, critical journalists and dissidents in Hong Kong could be sent to mainland China for trial. Its defenders, meanwhile, claimed that it merely sought to fill a legal vacuum, as no formal extradition treaties exist between Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China.
The bill was scrapped following a dramatic rise in tensions after mass protests engulfed Hong Kong’s government district.
However, the protesters’ demands, which were initially focused on stopping the extradition bill, have morphed into catch-all calls for democratic mechanisms to be implemented.