The Chinese defence ministry has dismissed concerns about PLA soldiers in Hong Kong leaving their barracks on Saturday to help with the clearing of roadblocks and debris, saying the garrison was committed to protecting national security and the city's stability.
Ministry spokesman Wu Qian made the comment after a meeting between Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe and US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper on the sidelines of an Asean defence ministers' meeting in Bangkok, where they discussed the situation in Hong Kong.
It was the first time the two defence chiefs spoke face-to-face about Hong Kong. They had discussed the ongoing unrest in the city in a phone conversation on November 5.
As hundreds of masked radicals and police officers remained locked in an intense stand-off on Monday, Wu said the Hong Kong public had welcomed the unexpected appearance of about 50 Chinese soldiers, unarmed and in plain clothes, for the first time in more than five months of unrest in the city.
"Stopping violence and restoring order is the most urgent task for Hong Kong," Wu said.
The meeting between Wei and Esper took place as the stand-off between masked radicals and police continued at Polytechnic University campus in Hung Hom, which saw live rounds being fired by Hong Kong police. Despite repeated warnings to leave, radicals started a massive fire at the school entrance to fend off police, who briefly stormed the campus and detained a few of the protesters early on Monday morning.
Wu said the PLA's Hong Kong garrison was committed to obeying the Central Military Commission, and was capable of carrying out its mission as required by the Basic Law " the city's mini-constitution " and the Garrison Law.
Critics and opposition lawmakers have condemned the Chinese soldiers' clean-up activities on Saturday for breaching the laws which, together, restrict the PLA from interfering in local affairs. The garrison is also required to tell the Hong Kong government in advance of any military activities " such as training or manoeuvres " involving the public interest.
The laws also say the Hong Kong government can ask the PLA for help to keep public order or help with disaster relief. A government spokesman on Saturday night said the garrison had volunteered its services to the clean-up effort and it was not at their request.
"There were some Hong Kong citizens clearing roadblocks near the PLA Hong Kong garrison," Wu said, when asked about the brief deployment.
"The soldiers from the PLA Hong Kong garrison joined these citizens in clearing these roadblocks and their efforts were welcomed by Hong Kong citizens," he added.
"The PLA Hong Kong garrison is determined, confident and capable of protecting national security, development interest, and the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong."
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