Hong Kong Economic Journal
18th September 2013
PLA’s Secret Exercise, Marine Department Gives Shocking Explanation
Lawmaker Gary Fan Kwok-wai tipped me off about the Sai Kung PLA military exercise held the other day when he was visiting the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He found four massive naval vessels in the sea next to Sai Kung. Yesterday (17th September), a Sai Kung resident sent pictures of these vessels to him asking why naval vessels would gathered in Sai Kung.
When he inquired Marine Department about the vessels, the department said that “it is a PLA military exercise which lasts from Monday (16th September) morning to 4pm on Wednesday (18th September). The PLA has reported to the Secretary Bureau, Chief Executive Office, Marine Department and Marine Police, as required by the Garrison Law. The public, including yacht owners will not be informed ahead of time. During sea military exercises, marine safety is completely handled by the PLA”.
Here is the problem!
Only the government departments were aware of this exercise. If anyone enters the exercise zone, will the PLA have the right to enforce law and demand people to leave the area? If any civilian gets hurt because of this exercise, what legal liabilities will the PLA bear? The Marine Department said that the PLA looks after the marine safety during sea military exercises, but according to Article 14 of the Basic Law “Military forces stationed by the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for defence shall not interfere in the local affairs of the Region. The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may, when necessary, ask the Central People’s Government for assistance from the garrison in the maintenance of public order and in disaster relief”. This is only an exercise, and certainly should not be categorised as “necessary (moment)” , will would the Hong Kong SAR government gives marine safety, a local affair of Hong Kong, to the PLA? I read through the Garrison Law, section 11 says that “PLA needs to inform the Hong Kong SAR government if their training and exercises concern the public interests of Hong Kong SAR. However, there is no mention in the Garrison Law that the “the public, including yacht owners, will not be informed about PLA exercises and that the PLA will take care of the marine safety”. Why did the Marine Department decide that the public should not be informed about such military exercise?
Daniel Wong Kwok-tung, a local lawyer, said that it all depends on the scale of the exercise, “We don’t know what exactly they were doing. If the scale was small, they only need to inform the Marine Department. But if the scale was big, for example they were maintaining order of the sea, or managing the marine traffic, that is (not informing the public) not right.” He also added that if the PLA sets a blockade zone and bans any entrance of civilian boats, then “it is certainly wrong”. He explained that civilians have to have access to the sea even if the PLA is there, it is a harbour regulated by the Shipping Ordinances. Under such non transparent circumstances, the Marine Department must clarify the details of this PLA military exercise to address the public concern.
Keyman (HKEJ’s Public Affairs Commentary Team)