UPDATED at 9:35 A.M. on 2022-01-11
China has chosen an official who led antiterrorism special forces in its far-western Xinjiang region as the new commander of the People’s Liberation Army’s garrison in Hong Kong, sparking concerns that Beijing will crackdown even harder on the region.
Major General Peng Jingtang, deputy chief of staff of the Armed Police Force in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, was appointed to the position at the direction of Chinese President Xi Jinping, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday.
General Wang Xiubin, commander of the Southern Theater Command, announced the appointment a few days ago, the report said.
Peng Jingtang said that he would uphold the “one country, two systems” policy, defend national sovereignty, and safeguard Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity and stability, according to the report.
Chinese authorities have used heavy-handed tactics in Hong Kong to quell pro-democracy demonstrators. They imposed, for example, a national security law purportedly to reestablish order following political upheaval.
Activists have said they believe the law is too restrictive and meant to suppress the freedoms and individual rights that Hong Kong residents enjoy under the “one country, two systems” policy.
Dilshat Rishit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, said Peng’s appointment “means Chinese President Xi Jinping has decided to use the Xinjiang-style military crackdown in Hong Kong under the pretext of anti-terrorism to crush the democratic aspirations of the people of Hong Kong, thus achieving CCP’s total control over this territory.”
Outside analysts said Peng’s assignment to the Hong Kong Garrison, where he will oversee thousands of soldiers, does not bode well for the semiautonomous territory.
Anders Corr, principal at Corr Analytics, a political risk advisory firm, called Peng a “bloodthirsty Chinese military commander” whose appointment is a “very bad wind that is blowing in Hong Kong at his point.”
“For years Peng led the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown in Xinjiang, and there’s an ongoing genocide there, so it’s a very bad thing for Hong Kong,” he told RFA Monday.
When Peng led the People’s Armed Police in Xinjiang, he bragged to Chinese state media in 2019 about a squad he trained that had fired as many shots as all other security forces in Xinjiang had during the previous three-year period, Corr said.
For years, Chinese authorities have brutally suppressed predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang, including detaining an estimated 1.8 million of them in an extensive network of internment camps where they are subject to violence and other human rights abuses.
Western countries, the United Nations and rights groups have condemned China’s actions against the Uyghurs, with some declaring that the abuse amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity.
China has denied the allegation of abuse and said that the detention centers are training facilities meant to prevent terrorism and extremism in Xinjiang.
Maya Wang, senior China researcher in the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said that the appointment of Peng and other top police officials to Hong Kong is “a significant and ominous development.”
“It’s one example in which there is worry that Hong Kong would be managed more like Xinjiang or Tibet was in the future,” she told RFA.
Translated by Alim Seytoff of RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.