Dozens of military vehicles have gathered in the Chinese city of Shenzen on Monday as China mulls over its next move in response to escalating Hong Kong protests that have entered their 10th week.

  • Chinese military vehicles have gathered in Shenzen, a city located just 25 kilometres from the adjacent Hong Kong border.
  • Several videos posted to social media show a long procession of military trucks entering Shenzen on Monday morning, apparently "in advance of apparent large-scale exercises," according to Chinese state tabloid Global Times.
  • The vehicles belong to the Chinese People's Armed Police Force, a paramilitary police force responsible for riot control and counter-terrorism.
  • Though China has become more vocal about its ability to mobilize armed forces in Hong Kong, experts say the military displays are part of a wider strategy aimed at intimidation and deterrence, and it is unlikely that China will actually intervene at this stage.
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Chinese military vehicles have gathered in Shenzen, a city located just 25 kilometres from the adjacent Hong Kong border - a warning sign from China in response to over 10 weeks of escalating protests in Hong Kong.

Several videos posted to social media show a long procession of military trucks entering Shenzen on Monday morning. Chinese state tabloid Global Times posted a compilation of different footage showing the military trucks assembling in Shenzen "in advance of apparent large-scale exercises."

The propaganda video shows a number of armoured personnel carriers, trucks, and other vehicles belonging to the Chinese People's Armed Police Force, a paramilitary police force responsible for riot control and counter-terrorism, parading through the streets of Shenzen. The Times also noted in its report that 12,000 police officers, tanks, helicopters, and amphibious vehicles gathered in Shenzen on August 6 for what appeared to be anti-riot drills.

Additional video posted to social media appeared to show military vehicles entering the Shenzen Bay Sports Center, a large stadium located just 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the entrance to the Shenzen Bay Bridge which connects the city to Hong Kong.

Adam Ni, a researcher on Chinese foreign and security policy at the Australian National University, said on Twitter that the military display is a brazen warning to Hong Kong of China's combat readiness.

"China is stepping up its signalling, and the message that it wants to conbey [sic] is pretty clear: if the protests escalate further, Chinese armed forces will intervene..." Ni said in a Twitter thread alongside videos of the vehicles gathering.

Hundreds and thousands have gathered in the streets of Hong Kong for nearly three months of protests, a growing number of which have turned violent. What initially started as a protest against a proposed bill that would allow for the extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China for trial has ballooned into fight to uphold democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

Read more: Hostile protests in Hong Kong are unlikely to end anytime soon unless world leaders address Chinese interference, activists say

Though China has not yet officially announced plans to mobilize its armed forces in Hong Kong, it has become more vocal about its ability to do so in recent weeks.

In July, China's military arm in Hong Kong carried out "emergency response exercises" - a display observers perceived as a reminder of China's ability to use force in Hong Kong if it deems it necessary, as stipulated by Hong Kong's Basic Law, which is essentially the city's mini constitution. Weeks later, the Hong Kong garrison released a three-minute video which showed its soldiers engaged in various military activities, including firing rockets at targets and practicing riot drills. And last week, senior Chinese officials responsible for Hong Kong affairs said in a gathering of Hong Kong's top business leaders and pro-Beijing politicians in Shenzen that China would not just "sit by" if the situation in Hong Kong deteriorates to a point that is beyond the control of the city's government. Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of China's State Council, added that Chinese authorities have "ample methods as well as sufficient strength to promptly settle any possible turmoil should it occur."

According to Ni, China's recent military displays are part of a wider strategy aimed at intimidation and deterrence, though he says it is unlikely that China will actually intervene at this stage.

"Beijing may at some point make the judgment that the situation warrant military intervention regardless of the high cost involved," he wrote on Twitter. "But we are not at this point just yet."

Still, he says, military intervention in Hong Kong remains an option that China is prepared to utilise: "We should not discount this possibility, one that will almost certainly have tragic consequences."

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