Aircraft carrier visit to Hong Kong likely heralds new era in
HONG KONG – ReutersFollowing this weekend’s historic visit of China’s first aircraft carrier, Hong Kong is expected to play host to more frequent military displays as Beijing seeks new ways of forging nationalist sentiment across the free-wheeling financial hub.
While the troops of the People’s Liberation Army stationed in barracks across the former British colony will remain a low-key presence, more robust public engagement and displays of China’s growing military capabilities are likely, according to local officials, foreign envoys and analysts.
“The visit will help to stir the patriotism of Hong Kong comrades and help people to love the country and love Hong Kong more,” Ding Yi, a vice admiral of the Chinese navy, told reporters after the Liaoning steamed into Hong Kong waters flanked by two Type 52 destroyers from its strike group.
The 8,000-strong Hong Kong garrison - split between bases in the city and across the mainland border in southern Guangdong - has already embarked on more intense training and live-fire drills in recent months, including helicopter exercises.
“The days of visiting U.S. ships and sailors being the most obvious military figures in Hong Kong is starting to die out ... there is a sense now that Hong Kong is ready for more PLA displays,” said one foreign envoy.
A recent article in the Communist Party’s ideological journal Qiushi, or Seeking Truth, quoted senior PLA officers on the need to improve both combat capabilities and the “safeguarding of sovereignty through education” in Hong Kong.
An editorial in Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po newspaper on Friday urged more military activities to stir national feeling locally and “promote the return of the people’s hearts”
“We can see their [PLA] posture is starting to change and they moving to a new role,” said Zhang Baohui, a mainland security expert at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University. “In part, we can see them attempting to foster a greater sense of nationality in Hong Kong.”
The Hong Kong garrison has yet to respond to Reuters’ questions, while a Hong Kong government spokesmen referred inquiries to the PLA.
Under Hong Kong’s constitution, the Chinese government is responsible for foreign affairs and defense