Air, sea and land forces from the People’s Liberation Army’s Hong Kong garrison have mounted their biggest anti-terror drill in the city since the base was established in 1997, according to state media.
At least five warships, four helicopters, one assault boat and dozens of soldiers took part in the exercise on Thursday, which simulated the hijacking of a gas tanker, Xinhua reported.
The exercise came as Chinese naval forces conducted at least three other drills in various maritime areas to test combat readiness.
The Hong Kong operation was coordinated by a joint forces command centre and carried out in the East Lamma Channel.
Han Lifeng, a training officer at the garrison, said that having the joint command centre improved the effectiveness of deploying different forces and enhanced the garrison’s combat capabilities.
Military analysts said the drill was aimed both at improving security in the city and sending a message to pro-independence forces.
Hong Kong-based military expert Song Zhongping said Hong Kong was an open financial and economic hub and as such was vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
“The Hong Kong garrison can help protect Hong Kong’s key assets during an emergency,” he said.
But Adam Ni, a researcher in Chinese foreign and security policy at the Australian National University, said the drill was aimed more at potential mass protest movements.
The risk of terrorism in Hong Kong was low, he said, so the drill was more a signal of Chinese military power in Hong Kong, including suppression of dissent.
Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of The Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official think tank, said people should not read too much into the drill as it was in line with Beijing’s wider efforts to improve its combat readiness.
“China has conducted many large scale naval exercises to show its commitment to protecting its sovereignty,” he said. “Thursday’s drill in Hong Kong reflects the garrison’s ability and determination to keep the city stable.”
The drill was not the garrison’s first of the year. In March, troops from the base took part in a joint exercise with the French navy, their first with a foreign force.
In 2014, Victoria Harbour hosted a PLA air and sea drill, while a year earlier two warships took part in a similar exercise in Hong Kong waters, and troops from the garrison joined two live-fire drills.
China has been steadily ramping up its maritime combat readiness.
Over the past week the PLA has conducted three naval drills in different sea areas, two of which were confirmed as being in the East China Sea and Yellow Sea.
The third involved the Southern Theatre Command, which said on Monday that a frigate fleet had recently performed various drills, including live-fire exercises and simulated anti-submarine attacks. Although it did not say where the drills had been staged, its area of responsibility encompasses the disputed South China Sea.