Parked in a sports complex in the city of Shenzhen, the deployment has been interpreted as a threat from Beijing to use increased force against pro- democracy protesters.
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.
The military force is just across the harbour from the Asian financial hub that has been rocked by near-daily street demonstrations.
Hong Kong’s 10-week political crisis, in which millions of people have taken to the streets calling for a halt to sliding freedoms, was already the biggest challenge to Chinese rule of the semi-autonomous city since its 1997 handover from Britain.
The images were released just two days after the Chinese government published footage that appeared to show military vehicles driving towards the Hong Kong border.
The short clip shows a series of roughly two dozen green armoured fighting vehicles entering a “service area” in a row and riding down a highway, purportedly towards Shenzhen, the mainland city bordering the territory.
The state-run People’s Daily did not comment on the purpose of the vehicles, but noted that the People’s Armed Police are in charge of “handling riots, turmoil, seriously violent, criminal activities, terrorist attacks and other societal security incidents”.
Last week, Chinese police in Shenzhen carried out a large-scale anti-riot drill involving 12,000 officers in which they demonstrated a newly-developed tear gas to quell protesters.
At the start of August, Chinese forces congregated abruptly at the border with Hong Kong, alarming the White House.
Beijing appears to be losing patience after 10 weeks of protests.
China’s official Xinhua news agency published an editorial saying “ugly forces” were threatening the country’s “bottom line”.
Those “ugly forces” are Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.
“The central government will not sit idly by and let this situation continue,” the agency wrote, as China’s military repeated assertions that it is ready to quell the “intolerable” unrest if ordered.
Analysts have warned any move by China to intervene military in Hong Kong would backfire.
“Even 100 soldiers in the central business district, if they suddenly appeared on the front page of all major newspapers, would have a very chilling impact on multinational companies based in Hong Kong,” Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong told CNN.
CHAOS ON THE STREETS
Flights resumed at Hong Kong’s airport on Wednesday after two days of disruptions that descended into clashes with police, but after nightfall a new protest erupted on the streets.
In Hong Kong’s blue-collar Sham Shui Po neighbourhood, police fired tear gas at a group of protesters rallying outside a police station. The protesters had gathered to burn phony currency and incense as a way to show their opposition to the police during the month-long Hungry Ghost Festival, when offerings are made to ward off the spirits of ancestors.
Police armed with riot shields and batons marched through the neighbourhood. Officers carried warning flags and fired tear gas as they advanced, but protesters had already scrambled away.
More than 700 protesters have been arrested in total since early June, mostly men in their 20s and 30s, but also including women, teenagers and septuagenarians.
Assistant Commissioner of Police Operations Mak Chin-ho said additional suspects from the airport were expected to be arrested, including those who assaulted an officer after stripping him of his baton and pepper spray, prompting him to draw his gun to fend them off. Hong Kong law permits life imprisonment for those who commit violent acts or acts that might interfere with flight safety at an airport.
More than 74 million travellers pass through Hong Kong’s airport each year, making it “not an appropriate place of protest,” Mak said.
“Hong Kong police have always facilitated peaceful and orderly protests over the years, but the extremely radical and violent acts have certainly crossed the line and are to be most severely condemned,” he said.
“The police pledge to all citizens of Hong Kong that we will take steps to bring all culprits to justice.”
That was backed up by a statement on a new government website set up to provide the latest information on the crisis, which said, “The police will take relentless enforcement action to bring the persons involved to justice.”
The airport disruptions grew from a summer of demonstrations aimed at what many Hong Kong residents see as an increasing erosion of the freedoms they were promised in 1997 when Communist Party-ruled mainland China took over what had been a British colony.
While Hong Kong’s crucial travel industry suffers major losses, the city’s reputation as a well-regulated centre for finance is also taking a hit. At least 21 countries and regions have issued travel safety alerts for their citizens travelling to Hong Kong, saying protests have become more violent and unpredictable.
The demonstrators demand that Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam step down and scrap proposed legislation under which some suspects could be sent to mainland China, where critics say they could face torture and unfair or politically charged trials.
Lam has rejected calls for dialogue, saying the protesters were threatening to push their home into an “abyss.”
The Chinese Cabinet’s liaison office in Hong Kong said the protesters had “entirely ruptured legal and moral bottom lines” and would face swift and severe repercussions under Hong Kong’s legal system.
“Their behaviour shows extreme contempt for the law, seriously damages Hong Kong’s international image and deeply hurts the feelings of the broad masses of their mainland compatriots,” the statement said.
Most of the protesters left the airport Tuesday after riot police tried to enter the terminal, fighting with demonstrators who barricaded entrances with luggage carts. The brief clash led to several injuries.
The violence included protesters beating up at least two men they suspected of being undercover Chinese agents. Airport security appeared unable to control the crowd, and paramedics later took both men away. Police have acknowledged using “decoy” officers, and some protesters over the weekend were seen being arrested by men dressed like demonstrators — in black and wearing face masks. Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, identified one of the men as a journalist at the nationalistic Chinese tabloid.
“Fu Guohao, reporter of GT website is being seized by demonstrators at HK airport,” Hu wrote on his Twitter account.
“I affirm this man being tied in this video is the reporter himself. He has no other task except for reporting.”
The protesters apologised that some of them had become “easily agitated and overreacted.” On posters, the demonstrators said they have been “riddled with paranoia and rage” after discovering undercover police officers in their ranks.
Earlier this week, the central government in Beijing issued an ominous characterisation of the protest movement as something approaching “terrorism” — a label it routinely applies to nonviolent protests of government policies on the environment or in minority regions such as Xinjiang and Tibet. Satellite photos show what appear to be armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles belonging to the China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police parked in a sports complex in the city of Shenzhen, across the border in Hong Kong, in what some have interpreted as a threat from Beijing to use increased force against protesters.
The pictures collected on Monday by Maxar’s WorldView show 500 or more vehicles sitting in and around the soccer stadium at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center.
US President Donald Trump tweeted that US intelligence believes that the Chinese government is moving troops to its border with Hong Kong and that, “Everyone should be calm and safe!”
While China has yet to threaten using the army — as it did against pro-democracy protesters in Beijing in 1989 — recent police exercises across Hong Kong’s border with mainland China were a sign of its ability to crush the demonstrations, even at a cost to Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe haven for business and international exchange.