- Soldiers in bright basketball jerseys made no effort to hide their colours, but why were they on the streets?
- Analyst says presence of troops from Xuefeng Special Operations Brigade raises questions about what PLA might do next
Among the Chinese soldiers who "volunteered" to help clean up Hong Kong's streets on Saturday were several dressed in colourful basketball jerseys.
While that might not have meant much to the casual observer, those with a grounding in military matters would have noticed that besides shirt numbers, the fluorescent orange and blue tops also carried a name: "Xuefeng Special Operations Brigade".
Part of the Western Theatre Command, which oversees a vast area in the west of China, including Xinjiang and Tibet, Xuefeng " according to earlier reports by the PLA Daily, the mouthpiece of China's military " is one of the country's leading counterterrorism brigades.
In 2010, its troops took part in a joint counterterrorism drill in a mountainous region of northern Pakistan, close to the border with Afghanistan. The exercise involved a range of scenarios, including dealing with hostage situations.
The brigade is also trained to be able to deal with a wide range of environments, including deserts and open plains, and have travelled to South America and Europe, the reports said.
In 2013, its Eighth Company won the gold medal during a "confrontation exercise" at the Zhurihe military training base in Inner Mongolia.
Troops from the brigade last week featured in a report on the military channel of China's state broadcaster CCTV, in which they were seen searching for objects in rooms filled with tear gas, and without the aid of face masks.
Information about the movements and deployments of China's military units is closely guarded, so it is unknown how long soldiers from the Xuefeng brigade have been stationed in Hong Kong.
The garrison conducted a routine rotation in August amid the ongoing protests and violent clashes in the city. However, unlike previous rotations, the exercise was not accompanied by an official announcement stating that the amount of troops and equipment stationed in the city was unchanged.
Macau-based military expert Anthony Wong said the involvement of troops from the Hong Kong garrison in Saturday's clean-up operation could be seen as sending multiple messages to multiple audiences.
As well as being a straightforward reminder of mainland China's military presence " including elite counterterrorism forces " in the city, the act served as a show of support to the beleaguered pro-government camp and as a gentle warning to violent radicals, he said.
But the giveaway basketball jerseys also raised questions, Wong said.
"(Xuefeng) is from west China, so are they supposed to be in town? Did they arrive during the rotation?"
Or was the whole incident just a way to test the waters, he asked.
"When they come out of their barracks next time, it's possible they might walk a couple of blocks further."
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