China appointed Peng Jingtang to head the Chinese military garrison in Hong Kong on Monday. An arrival very commented on so much this general, who cut his teeth in Xinjiang where the Uyghur minority is oppressed, passes for a strong man.
The people’s armed police enter the scene. Beijing appointed, Monday, January 10, unew chief at the head of the Hong Kong garrison. For the first time, it will be led by an official from the People’s Armed Police, a very active and little-known Chinese paramilitary force, and not from the People’s Liberation Army.
Major General Peng Jingtang has vowed to “ensure the security and maintain stability” of Hong Kong upon taking office, reported Xinhua, China’s main news agency.
The arrival of this Chinese “big cop” was followed very closely because of the context of this appointment and the very particular pedigree of Peng Jingtang.
Leader of an elite anti-terrorist squad in Xinjiang
Before entering the Hong Kong scene, he was in charge of the operations of the People’s Armed Police in the highly volatile region of Xinjiang, home to the oppressed Muslim minority of the Uyghurs.
Little known to the general public outside of China, the People’s Armed Police are considered the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party. This force comprising around one million men and with an annual budget of 19 billion euros is placed under the direct authority of Xi Jinping. It is responsible for securing the coasts, serving as a back-up army in the event of conflict and ensuring internal security by fighting against separatist movements and terrorism.
It is in the name of this third imperative that Peng Jingtang was dispatched in 2018 to Xinjiang, when the Chinese regime decided to intensify its policy of repression against the Uyghurs.
An assignment which in fact has almost the most important man of the people’s armed police on the ground. It is in fact in Xinjiang that there are the most detachments of these paramilitary forces – seven – even if the head of the four contingents deployed in Beijing has a “politically more important role” since it is a question of securing the capital. , notes Joel Wuthnow, an American expert on the Chinese army, in a note devoted to the role of the people’s armed police, published in 2019.
The joint drill “Cooperation-2019,” held by the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force (PAP) and the National Guard of Kyrgyzstan, concluded Tuesday in Urumqi, capital of northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. pic.twitter.com/wtPqOnhKML
– CCTV (@CCTV) August 14, 2019
Peng Jingtang also led, in 2019, the first exercise of these paramilitaries with foreign forces. He coordinated joint training with the Kyrgyzstan counterterrorism police in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. An episode which could be perceived as the first step of the armed police of the people towards possible deployments abroad. “One of Xi Jinping’s goals would be to use these men to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals in countries crossed by the ‘new Silk Roads’,” said Joel Wuthnow.
It was during this joint exercise that Peng Jingtang also unveiled his Mountain Eagle Commandos, an elite troop made up of around 150 men specially trained for rapid interventions against terrorist threats. “Led by Peng Jingtang, it has often been deployed in the field,” said the South China Morning Post.
The burrs of the people’s armed police
The Mountain Eagle Commandos and the armed police of the people in general “have been particularly active in chasing down the ‘insurgents’ in Xianjing where these paramilitaries did not leave good memories to the local populations”, underlines the magazine Foreign Policy.
More generally, this force under the orders of the CCP “is not very well seen by the majority of Chinese, who fear its brutality and the right it arrogates to itself to arbitrarily arrest people”, underlines Bonnie Girard, president of the Chinese Communist Party. American analysis firm China Channel LTD, in a opinion piece published by The Diplomat.
Since its inception in the early 1980s, this force has been implicated in numerous violent incidents across China. In 2005, more than twenty people died in clashes with these paramilitaries who intervened to put an end to an uprising in Guangdong province. A vast reform of 2018 led by Xi Jinping aimed to make this paramilitary police more professional in order to avoid this kind of incident “which had the consequence of attracting international attention”, underlines Joel Wuthnow, the American expert of the Chinese army.
No wonder then that the arrival of one of the most senior officials of this controversial armed force is causing concern in Hong Kong. “This may appear to be a way for Beijing to strengthen the security apparatus there,” said Eric Yan-Ho Lai, specialist in political and human rights issues at Hong Kong Georgetown Center for Asian Law, contacted by France 24 .
Golden retirement or taken over by Beijing?
With his experience in subduing “terrorist threats”, Peng Jingtang indeed takes the head of a contingent of about 6,000 Chinese soldiers from the mainland stationed in Hong Kong. His “know-how” seems perfectly suited to the application of the new national security law, adopted following the 2019 demonstrations, which makes it possible to prosecute anyone who constitutes “a terrorist threat” in Beijing’s eyes. “The Chinese authorities have for a year on several occasions compared activists in Hong Kong to lone wolves susceptible to terrorist acts”, recalls Eric Yan-Ho Lai.
The most optimistic, however, seek to minimize this appointment by recalling that the Chinese garrison in Hong Kong “has only a very limited role and the maintenance of public order is the exclusive responsibility of the local police”, recalls Timothy Summer, researcher at the Center for Chinese Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, contacted by France 24. The raison d’être of these soldiers from the mainland “is only to ensure the defense of Hong Kong against external threats” , says Lau Siu-kai, vice-director of the China Association for Hong Kong and Macau Studies, interviewed by the South China Morning Post.
In this hypothesis, the appointment of Peng Jingtang would be a sort of golden retirement. As a reward for his good and loyal service in Xinjiang, this major general obtains a prestigious media post which does not require too much effort.
However, this garrison began, little by little, to play a more active role in maintaining order in the city. After the 2019 protests, some of these soldiers lent a hand to local police to “clean the streets,” said the South China Morning Post.
Beijing also sent to this garrison “weapons and anti-terrorism and anti-riot equipment which were transferred to reserves of the People’s Armed Police,” said Andrei Chang, director of Kanwa Asian Defense, a Canadian magazine specializing in human rights. Chinese military issues.
“This is a very symbolic appointment in that it further strengthens the parallel that Beijing seeks to draw between the situation in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Thus, officials from Hong Kong have been sent to Xinjiang to ‘learn’ them. techniques used on site to maintain order “, emphasizes Eric Yan-Ho Lai.
This would be all the more important given that Xi Jinping wants absolute calm to reign in Hong Kong this year. The elections to appoint the new chief executive of this territory are due to take place in March. More importantly, the Chinese president hopes that in October he will be reappointed for a third term in the much-anticipated XXe CPC Congress.
So, maybe Peng Jingtang didn’t arrive in Hong Kong with a mission to take back police control of the city, but Xi Jinping at least has a strong man on hand just in case …