As the summer of protests continues to escalate in Hong Kong, the Chinese army released a video Thursday for its troops based in the city showing footage of an "anti-riot drill" as a top commander warned of punishment against "violent criminals.
The three-minute video from the Hong Kong Garrison of China's People's Liberation Army was posted on social media, and begins with a solider shouting "all consequences are at your own risk."
One section of the PLA video called “anti-riot drill footage” shows troops advancing with shields on protestors as armored personnel carriers with battering rams race forward.
The footage in the video also shows soldiers rappelling from helicopters, aiming sniper guns and, in one sequence, throwing tear gas at a crowd dressed as civilians.
The scenes bare similarities to the current situation in Hong Kong, where the police have used tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets to quell pro-democracy demonstrators. Some of the targeted civilians shown in the army video are wearing helmets and masks, much like those worn by protesters who have taken to Hong Kong's streets over the past two months.
Soldiers in the video hold up a red flag that declares: "Stop Charging Or We Use Force" and shouted that those on the receiving end would bear the consequences.
A similar banner is used by Hong Kong police when they quell protests. At the end of the drill, soldiers are seen taking some handcuffed civilians away.
The protests in Hong Kong began in April and reached critical mass in early June as a call to withdraw an extradition bill that would have allowed people in the former British colony to be sent to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their legal rights would be threatened. Even though the government indefinitely suspended the legislation, demonstrators are still demanding greater democracy and government accountability.
As the movement has progressed, both protesters and police have at times resorted to violence. Since the protests began, the PLA has stayed in its barracks and left the Hong Kong police force to deal with the massive crowds and sometimes violent clashes.
In response to questions about whether the army will be sent in to handle demonstrators, Chinese officials have pointed to an article in Hong Kong's Garrison Law stating that troops already stationed in the city can be deployed at the request of the Hong Kong government.
Article 14 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, says PLA troops "shall not interfere" in local affairs, but that Hong Kong's government can ask for assistance from the garrison "in the maintenance of public order and in disaster relief," according to the Associated Press.
In remarks ahead of Thursday's anniversary of the PLA, garrison commander Maj. Gen. Chen Daoxiang said Beijing "firmly supports" Hong Kong's embattled leader Carrie Lam and moves by police and the courts to enforce the law and punish "violent criminals."
"Recently, there have been a series of extremely violent incidents happening in Hong Kong,” he said at the reception, according to the South China Morning Post. "This has damaged the prosperity and stability of the city, and challenged the rule of law and social order. The incidents have seriously threatened the life and safety of Hong Kong citizens, and violated the bottom line of ‘one country, two systems.'"
Diplomats and foreign security analysts who are watching the situation closely told Reuters they believe there is not strong will in Beijing for the PLA to be deployed on the streets of Hong Kong.
“We believe that the Hong Kong garrison of the People’s Liberation Army will continue to become a stabilizing pillar for Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a briefing in Beijing when asked about the video, according to the news agency.
Any use of the PLA against protesters would conjure up memories of the army's bloody June 1989 crackdown on student pro-democracy protests centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square in which hundreds, possibly thousands were killed.
The PLA struggled in the years afterward to rehabilitate its reputation after turning its guns on its own people. The world's largest standing army, the PLA is actually the military wing of the ruling Communist Party with explicit instructions to follow the orders of the party, not the government.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.