Hundreds of members of China’s People’s Armed Police could be seen conducting exercises on Thursday at a sports stadium in Shenzhen, as the U.S. State Department expressed concern that they could be deployed across the border in Hong Kong to break up protests wracking the city.
But Western and Asian diplomats in Hong Kong said Beijing has little appetite for rolling the PAP or the People’s Liberation Army onto Hong Kong’s streets.
On Thursday men in fatigues could be seen in a stadium and shouts and whistles could be heard by a Reuters journalist. The stadium is next to a retail complex and shoppers were milling around the area, although the entrances to the stadium were closed.
Parking spaces at the stadium were filled with more than 100 dark-painted paramilitary vehicles, including troop trucks, armored personnel carriers, buses and jeeps. At least three were armored wheel-loaders, and two vehicles carried water cannons.
Troops marched in and out of the stadium, some in fatigues, some in black T-shirts and camouflage trousers. The floor of an indoor area visible through an open gate was lined with mats and rucksacks.
Chinese state media have made several mentions of exercises in Shenzhen.
The Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, published a slick video early this week showing columns of trucks and armored personnel carriers rolling through the city.
The paper said the vehicles belonged to the People’s Armed Police and had gathered for “apparent-large scale exercises.” Its editor, Hu Xijin, described it on Twitter as “a clear warning to rioters in Hong Kong.”
The Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper said on the social media platform Weibo that the force handles incidents that include riots and terrorist attacks.
On Wednesday the U.S. State Department said it was deeply concerned about reports that Chinese police forces were gathering near the border with Hong Kong and urged the city’s government to respect freedom of speech.