“Garrison officers and soldiers are determined, confident, and capable of safeguarding national sovereignty and development interests and the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong,” Chen said Tuesday, adding that the Hong Kong Garrison viewed the national security law as “conducive to deter separatist forces and external intervention.”
Chen’s words do carry some extra weight, however, given the uneasy status of the PLA in the city.
Chinese troops have been garrisoned in Hong Kong since its handover to Chinese rule in 1997, but the PLA has historically kept a very low profile. This began to change during last year’s anti-government unrest, as paramilitary troops were moved to the Chinese side of the border, and Hong Kong PLA soldiers engaged in cleanup activities.
The proposed national security law — which also permits Chinese security services to operate in Hong Kong for the first time — has led to fears among many in the city that members of the PLA could be deployed onto the streets should violent protests resume.
In mainland China, sweeping national security laws have been used to target human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and pro-democracy campaigners.
Another protest is expected Wednesday, as Hong Kong legislators meet to discuss a proposed national anthem law. While the legislation is unrelated to the national security bill, it is another law that has been imposed on the city by Beijing.
Protesters have called for people to gather outside the legislative council early Wednesday in an attempt to repeat their success last year, when they managed to prevent legislators from debating an extradition bill with China, that was eventually withdrawn.
Such a development is unlikely this week, as police plan to deploy thousands of officers to guard an already fortified legislature.
“There is no need for us to worry because in the last 23 years whenever people worried about Hong Kong’s freedoms of speech and freedoms of expressions and protest, time and again Hong Kong has proven that we uphold and preserve those values,” she said. “I think the best thing is to see the legislation in front of us, and to understand why at this point in time Hong Kong needs this piece of legislation, for the bigger benefit of the great majority of Hong Kong people.”
CNN’s Isaac Yee and Vanesse Chan contributed reporting.