HONG KONG – The Chinese military began dispatching a new force group to Hong Kong on Thursday. This was described as a normal annual change of occupation in the city, but was closely monitored due to months of political unrest.
"This rotation is an annual routine routine action approved by the Central Military Commission," said Lieutenant Colonel Han You, a spokesman for the garrison of the People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong, in a written statement.
The Xinhua State News Agency released photos of trucks carrying troops, armored personnel transports, and a ship under cover of the early morning darkness into the city.
Following the change of troops last year, the military stated that the number of troops and equipment was identical to that of the previous year. Lieutenant-Colonel Han's statement this year contained no such explanation, fueling speculation that the military was building its strength in Hong Kong.
The city is in the midst of its biggest political crisis since its surrender, with almost daily protests against the government, including some who have become violent, with protesters throwing stones and even firebombs at the police. On Sunday, an officer fired a warning shot as a group of police officers using sticks and metal bars attacked a group of police officers.
The Chinese authorities have warned that the military might be called upon to respond to the protests. In recent weeks, Chinese police and paramilitary troops have held retreats in Shenzhen, a mainland city adjacent to Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong government has previously denied seeking assistance from the military.