1/10/2022 Hong Kong (International Christian Concern) – Chinese state news has announced the selection of Peng Jingtang as the new commander of the People Liberation Army’s (PLA) detachment in Hong Kong. Peng’s appointment is significant as his experience includes time as the chief of staff of the Xinjiang Armed Police, serving in a region where China is accused of conducting a brutal campaign of internment and genocide against its Uyghur Muslim minority.
The PLA’s garrison in Hong Kong, a detachment of the mainland’s PLA, exists to promote the city-state’s security. This is part of a wider arrangement created during the city’s handover from the United Kingdom to manage the city-state’s wider foreign policy remit. While the PLA force had remained relatively quiet in Hong Kong before recent events, this new development comes as concerning changes in the city’s relationship with Beijing continue to develop.
Peng’s addition to the growing Beijing influence in Hong Kong is one that increases concern for religious freedom in the city-state, as Peng’s record with the Xinjiang Armed Police coincides with the ongoing attempts to suppress the region’s Uyghur religious and ethnic minority through genocide and mass internment – a stark example of China’s worst form of religious persecution. Peng will also join the recent appointments to the Hong Kong Liaison Office, led by two of the CCP’s political and religious hardliners: Xia Baolong and Luo Huining. Xia is the Director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and has been criticized for his orders to remove thousands of crosses from churches in the Wenzhou area. Luo is the Director of the Chinese-Hong Kong Liaison Office – a Xi Jinping ally influential in the anti-corruption campaign and a former Secretary for Qinghai during a period of increased repression of Tibetan minorities. This combination of CCP hardliners in Hong Kong draws new concerns for both religious and political freedoms across the city – two fronts we know have already been engaged by the mainland.
While there was a time we could expect the PLA and the China-Hong Kong Liaison Offices to remain low-profile, these appointments follow a wave of pro-Beijing moves in Hong Kong, including last month’s “Patriot’s Only” election, which saw a sweep of the Hong Kong legislature by pro-Beijing candidates. This new government will likely facilitate the continued growth of Beijing’s influence, further empowered by the recent National Security Law, which expanded police powers to suppress dissident activity in Hong Kong. This same national security language will continue to be critical as it is used to justify religious persecution on the mainland, including that towards Christians.
As China continues to establish control over Hong Kong, we know its crackdown on dissenters will not end with politics alone. The new pro-Beijing majority and its growing security presence will continue to offer China near unlimited influence in Hong Kong, increasing Beijing’ power – a factor that will expand the same authoritarian governance seen on the mainland here in Hong Kong, making conditions for Christians and individuals of faith soon to be as dire as on the mainland.
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