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US 'deeply concerned' by Chinese paramilitary on Hong Kong border

The US also urged Beijing to honour the territory’s autonomy as pro-democracy protests continued.

Hong Kong Protests This satellite image captured on Monday appears to show Chinese security force vehicles inside the Shenzen Bay Sports Center Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies via AP Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies via AP

THE US HAS expressed concerns over Chinese security force movements on the border with Hong Kong and urged Beijing to honour the territory’s autonomy as pro-democracy protests continued.

A State Department spokesperson voiced concerns about the “continued erosion” of Hong Kong’s autonomy and expressed “staunch” support for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the territory.

This comes after satellite photos show what appear to be armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles belonging to China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police parked in a sports complex in the city of Shenzhen. 

The pictures collected on Monday by Maxar’s WorldView show 500 or more vehicles sitting on and around the soccer stadium at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center just across the harbor from the Asian financial hub that has been rocked by more than two months of near-daily street demonstrations.

Chinese state media have said only that the Shenzhen exercises had been planned beforehand and were not directly related to the unrest in Hong Kong, although they came shortly after the central government in Beijing said the protests were beginning to show the “sprouts of terrorism”.

Senior members of US Congress declared their backing for the protestors, blaming Beijing for a violent crackdown by the Hong Kong government. 

“The United States is deeply concerned by reports of Chinese paramilitary movement along the Hong Kong border,” the spokesperson, who would not be named, told AFP in a statement.

“The United States strongly urges Beijing to adhere to its commitments in the Sino-British Joint Declaration to allow Hong Kong to exercise a high degree of autonomy.”

Hong Kong Protests Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies via AP Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies via AP

Inciting ‘chaos’

Top legislators, who normally have access to internal US government intelligence, were more directly critical of the Hong Kong government and Beijing.

“Images of Beijing-backed forces brutalizing civilians speak for themselves,” tweeted Mitch McConnell, the powerful Republicans Senate majority leader.

“Millions of Hong Kongers protesting the Chinese Communist Party’s encroachment know the truth about exactly who is responsible for ‘inciting’ chaos. The rest of the world knows too,” he said.

Nancy Pelosi the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, called the use of force “perpetrated against” the demonstrators “extremely alarming”.

“The pro-Beijing Chief Executive and the Hong Kong police forces must immediately cease the aggression and abuse being perpetrated against their own people,” she said in a statement.

Beijing has been apparently reluctant to send in police or army units from the mainland or to mobilize the People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong to quell the unrest.

It’s seen as mindful of the devastating effect that would have both on the territory’s reputation as a safe and stable place to invest in, and as indication of the Communist Party’s failure to win over the hearts and minds of the city’s 7.3 million residents, 22 years after the former British colony was handed over to China. 

‘Legitimate concerns’

The State Department spokesperson said the protests, which forced the partial closure of Hong Kong’s international airport yesterday, reflect Hong Kong citizens’ “broad and legitimate concerns” over the loss of autonomy, which was agreed in the deal between London and Beijing over returning the former British colony to China in 1997.

“We condemn violence and urge all sides to exercise restraint, but remain staunch in our support for freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in Hong Kong,” the US official said.

The official also denied Chinese state-run media reports that the United States was stirring up the demonstrations behind the scene.

“We categorically reject the false charge of foreign forces as the black hand behind the protests,” the official said.

Trump’s mixed messages

Trump, who is locked in a tense showdown with Beijing over trade relations, has taken a milder approach to the Hong Kong protests, drawing criticism from US China experts and legislators. 

He called the situation “very tricky,” adding: “I hope it works out for everybody including China. I hope it works out peacefully, nobody gets hurt, nobody gets killed.”

Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, said Trump’s silence was “devastating” to the protestors’ cause.

Pelosi today called on Trump to “walk away” from his statements, which she said “invite miscalculation”.

“If America does not speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out elsewhere,” she said.

Includes reporting by Associated Press and © – AFP 2019

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