China rotated thousands of new troops that were stationed off Hong Kong on Thursday days before protesters planned to hold a march calling for full democracy after three months of sometimes violent demonstrations.
People’s Liberation Army described the troop movement in the early hours as “routine” and cited that the military will make even greater contributions to maintaining Hong Kong’s “prosperity and stability”.
Defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said that the protesters must respect the law and that the military garrison were to defend the territory.
Witnesses saw significantly more activity in and around the PLA’s Shek Kong military base in the rural New Territories than has been apparent in recent months.
Observers estimate the Hong Kong garrison numbers between 8,000 and 10,000 troops, split between bases in southern China and a network of former British army barracks in Hong Kong.
Regardless of the movement being called routine, the timing was likely to hit nerves in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese control in 1997 under a “one state, two systems” agreement.
Recently, alarms were raised in Hong Kong after the massing of Chinese forces was revealed across the border in the mainland city of Shenzhen.
China has warned it will not “sit by and watch” as unrest continued in Hong Kong.