Hong Kong and China: The Military and Political Implications of Reversion

By Blasko, Dennis J.; Montaperto, Ronald N. | Strategic Forum, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Hong Kong and China: The Military and Political Implications of Reversion


Blasko, Dennis J., Montaperto, Ronald N., Strategic Forum


Conclusions

* Hong Kong reversion will have no significant impact upon the military balance in the Asia-Pacific region. Political and economic concerns far outweigh military considerations.

* The United States has only limited ability to affect the transition in Hong Kong. In order to be effective, Washington's actions should firmly focus on U.S. interests in Hong Kong. Although the Hong Kong transition bears directly on overall U.S. relations with China, it should not assume paramount importance in determining the tone of the bilateral relationship.

* Unilateral efforts by Washington will be counterproductive; U.S. policy should be closely coordinated with the large number of other nations having similar interests there.

* Owing to the nature of the transition, U.S. policy should be phased. During the first phase-from the 1 July transfer until elections for a new Legislative Council are held-a policy of watchful waiting should be adopted to allow Beijing to demonstrate its sincerity in fulfilling the terms of the Basic Law. Second phase policy should be based on consideration of how U.S. interests in protecting regional stability, Hong Kong's economic viability, freedom of the press, and the safety of U.S. citizens and investments are being affected.

* Hong Kong is economically self-sanctioning (that is, if China disrupts the status quo businesses will leave). Unless their lives are at risk, the people of Hong Kong and the international business community will probably sit out one crisis. It is unlikely, however, that they will be as passive if the situation deteriorates a second time. At the earliest sign of a subsequent disaster, whoever can probably will leave in whatever manner they have prepared. Such a course is not inevitable and clearly one the leaders in Hong Kong and Beijing will seek to avoid.

Introduction

On July 1, 1997 the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong will revert from British to Chinese rule and become a Special Autonomous Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China. For the next year and more, the world will focus on the manner in which China handles the transition. The pressure will be squarely on China's shoulders to live up to the international agreements (the 1984 Joint Declaration and 1990 Basic Law) that provide the framework for the resumption of sovereignty over the territory governed by Britain for 150 years. Much is at stake for the Chinese leadership. How Beijing manages this responsibility will deeply influence the perceptions of other nations about how China will function as a major power.

Hong Kong Reversion: The Impact on China's Military Position

China has prepared a military force to move into Hong Kong on 1 July. At present, the Hong Kong Garrison has its headquarters just to the north of Hong Kong in Shenzhen. Elements of the army, navy, and air force will be stationed in the SAR after reversion, taking over locations historically used by British forces. The exact size of the garrison to be stationed in Hong Kong has not been disclosed, but is likely to total a few thousand troops of all services. Sub-elements of the garrison are expected to rotate into and out of the SAR from Shenzhen on a regular basis. The Chinese government has gone to great lengths to demonstrate that these troops are the best in the People's Liberation Army (PLA). They are receiving intensive training so that they understand their role in Hong Kong and maintain a professional demeanor. According to the Basic Law, Chinese military forces shall not interfere in local affairs. There has been no indication that the paramilitary People's Armed Police, the armed force primarily tasked with the internal security mission on the mainland, will be stationed as a security force in Hong Kong after reversion.

Reversion will not have any major impact on China's military position within the Asia Pacific region. Hong Kong's harbor and its military and air facilities will not greatly enhance the ability of the PLA to concentrate force in any of the areas of greatest concern to Beijing: the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea, or along the border with Vietnam. …

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