On Thursday, the People’s Liberation Army’s Hong Kong Garrison tested out a new facility downtown, dispatching an auxiliary vessel to dock there.
According to a garrison spokesperson quoted by China Military Online, the ship Nanjiao 88 was “debugging and testing relevant facilities” at the Central Military Dock on the north shore of Hong Kong island, “and the ship's berthing is part of the relevant testing work.”
Someone across the bay spotted the ship on Thursday, incorrectly identifying the auxiliary as a “PLA battlecruiser.”
The 150-meter long dock was the last Hong Kong facility to be handed over to the PLA by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government after the implementation of the new national security law, which for the first time included Hong Kong. At the September 29 handover, Hong Kong SAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam urged that the PLA would only use the dock on a “discretionary basis.”
The Hong Kong Garrison’s primary naval facility is on Stonecutters Island, off the western side of the Kowloon Peninsula.
Unnamed military experts told the Global Times at the time the downtown dock would “help the PLA deal with terrorism-related activities and meet China's actual needs amid frequent foreign interference in Hong Kong affairs.”
In the years prior to the implementation of the new security law in late June, the former British colony was rocked by militant protests with extensive foreign backing, including by the United States’ National Endowment for Democracy, an organization with deep ties to the CIA. After the security law blocked opposition groups from receiving outside financing, the largest and most influential, Demosisto, almost immediately folded.
US Ships No Longer Welcome?
US naval vessels have long enjoyed the privilege of docking at Hong Kong, but in 2020, not a single American warship called to port in the city. In 2019, only two US ships were allowed to dock there, while Chinese authorities turned down six US requests.
In January 2020, the Hong Kong government terminated the lease on Fenwick Pier Fleet Arcade, the primary destination for US Navy personnel going ashore for half a century, saying the land needs to be redeveloped.
An anonymous PLA source told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post on Wednesday that the US Navy’s so-called “freedom of navigation operations” (FONOPs) across parts of the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait have soured Chinese feelings on allowing them to use the port.
“It’s one of the things that caused the failure of the scheduled Military Maritime Consultative Agreement due to the big divergence between the two militaries,” the source said.
A FONOP involves a US or allied warship deliberately sailing through waters claimed by China or another country, such as Russia or Vietnam, whose claims Washington considers to be “excessive.” Their frequency has spiked in recent years and led to tense military situations, such as one in 2018 in which a Chinese destroyer and an American destroyer came within a few dozen meters of each other.