China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers made a surprising appearance in some Hong Kong streets on Saturday to help residents clean up debris and barricades used by anti-government protests in order to block roads.
People’s Liberation Army came up wearing shorts and t-shirts, instead of uniform. The presence of PLA troops on the streets enraged protesters and stoke further controversy over the Chinese-ruled territory's autonomous status. The former British colony has been rocked by more than five months of demonstrations.
Clashes between protesters and police have become increasingly violent, and China has warned that any attempt at independence for Hong Kong will be crushed, but the military have remained inside their base. By late afternoon, the soldiers had left the streets outside Baptist University, which neighbours their barracks in the leafy district of Kowloon Tong.
Chinese troops have appeared on local streets only once since the 1997 handover, to help with cleanup operations after a typhoon in late 2018. Hundreds of residents moved in to help clear barricaded roads near several universities that were occupied and fortified by protesters this week. In some cases the two sides clashed, before the dwindling number of anti-government protesters at the campuses retreated.
Anti-China students and activists have barricaded at least five campuses in the last week, stockpiling petrol bombs, catapults, bows and arrows and other weapons.
Up to 12,000 troops are now believed to be based across Hong Kong - more than double the usual number garrison number, foreign envoys and security analysts estimate. China denies interfering in Hong Kong's affairs and has blamed Western countries for stirring up trouble. President Xi Jinping has repeatedly said he has confidence in the Hong Kong government restoring order.