By :PushkarSinha

The People’s Liberation Army’s garrison in Hong Kong will be led by the former chief of internal security in the Xinjiang province, according to China’s military, in the latest of a series of actions intended at bringing the semi-autonomous city under Beijing’s tight control.

According to a brief article on the Defense Ministry’s website on Monday, Xi Jinping, China’s President, Communist Party head and PLA commander, had signed Major General PengJingtang’s appointment.

Peng promised to “perform defence responsibilities in accordance with the law, fiercely protect national sovereignty, security, and development interests, and firmly preserve Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability,” according to the statement.

According to a govt. press releasePeng met Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who told him that her government would work with the garrison to “jointly safeguard the nation’s sovereignty, security, and development interests and help maintain the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.”

Following the transition to Chinese administration in 1997, China suppressed political opposition and curtailed free expression in the city, a former British colony that was told it would maintain its civil rights and autonomous judicial system intact for the next 50 years.

Following anti-government protests in 2019, China enacted a broad National Security Law on Hong Kong, resulting in the arrest, intimidation, and exile of most opposition figures. Independent news organisations have been raided and forced to close as a result of asset seizures or threats of prosecution.

Candidates who were deemed insufficiently loyal to Beijing were forbidden from standing in local Legislative Council elections.

Peng has been the commander of the paramilitary People’s Armed Police unit in Xinjiang since 2018, where China has incarcerated hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in political re-education centers. The enormous territory is still engulfed in a security blanket that dictates most elements of Muslim people’s life.

The effort has been dubbed genocide by the United States and others, while China claims that all participants in what it defines as a drive for job training and de-radicalization have graduated. Beijing maintains that all of its efforts in Xinjiang are required to combat regional terrorism. Peng, in particular, is said to be the commander of a new special force developed in Xinjiang “for the region’s and China’s anti-terrorism requirements.” His hiring may imply a tougher stance on alleged terrorist activity in Hong Kong.

There has already been a notable increase in terrorist accusations in Hong Kong. From July 1, 2020, to mid December, when the National Security Law took effect,  reporter Kari Soo Lindberg documented 29 arrests on “terrorism-related claims.”

Lam promised to boost “the effort on the prevention of terrorist activities” in an October speech. Some of the outcomes of that work were highlighted –

Mailboxes are being packed with flyers instructing locals on how to recognise terrorists. Across tram vehicles are posters encouraging passengers to “run, hide, and report” violent attacks. At the airport and train terminals, anti-terrorism drills were undertaken. At this year’s National Security Education Day, schoolchildren were exposed to bomb disposal teams and given the opportunity to hold fake weaponry.

Following the stabbing of a police officer in July 2021, Chief Secretary John Lee, Hong Kong’s second-ranking official, announced a “all-out effort to tackle homegrown terrorism.” Lee condemned the “violent riots” of 2019 for “breeding domestic terrorism,” in which pro-democracy demonstrators went to the streets in enormous marches against reforms to Hong Kong’s voting system. He was speciallyconcerned about “lone-wolf terrorist acts” by “radicalised people with extremist ideology.”

Protesters and dissidents are being labelled “terrorists” in Hong Kong, according to critics. China launched an extensive propaganda effort in 2019 to portray pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong as the work of “terrorists” controlled by Western powers and “extreme forces.”

Hong Kong has no military of its own, and its mini-constitution states that Beijing’s military troops stationed in the area should not meddle with local affairs, while local authorities may request aid from the garrison in preserving public order or delivering disaster relief.

The garrison constructed an exhibition hall within one of its Hong Kong sites last year, where it displays replicas of military vehicles and vessels and portrays a history of the PLA, bragging of its accomplishments.