A troubling image has emerged as the US revealed it was "deeply concerned" about Chinese paramilitary movement along the Hong Kong border.
Satellite images made available to Reuters on Wednesday from Maxar Technologies showed dozens of vehicles, including what appeared to be armoured personnel carriers, at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre across the harbour from Hong Kong.
A US official said Beijing had stationed large numbers of paramilitary People’s Armed Police “near and further out from Hong Kong” in response to weeks of street protests in the territory.
The official said there was no sign they were moving towards the border.
The number of personnel was "in the thousands", the official, who did not want to be identified, said.
"They have amped up training and made it all pretty visible.
"There are no recent indicators that they are preparing to deploy."
China's state-run Global Times media outlet reported on Monday the People's Armed Police had been assembling in Shenzhen, a city bordering Hong Kong, "in advance of apparent large-scale exercises".
It cited video it had obtained showing numerous armoured personnel carriers, trucks and other vehicles on expressways heading in the direction of Shenzhen over the weekend.
It noted the role of the PAP was "dealing with rebellions, riots, serious violent and illegal incidents, terrorist attacks and other social security incidents".
US President Donald Trump on Tuesday cited American intelligence as saying that China was moving troops to its border with Hong Kong, and urged calm as clashes continued between protesters and authorities in the former British colony.
Concerns Hong Kong may lose special trade status
The State Department's expression of concern came after senior US politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties called on Mr Trump to take a tougher line with China as worries grew over a possible Chinese intervention.
The State Department spokeswoman reiterated a US call for all sides to refrain from violence and said it was important for the Hong Kong government to respect "freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly", and for Beijing to adhere to its commitments to allow Hong Kong a high-degree of autonomy.
The Chinese military, believing in the intel and these videos, have set in place a comprehensive military operation targeting the situation in #HongKong. #HongKongProtests #China #Democracy pic.twitter.com/QWFM11XYKC— Alexandre Krauss (@AlexandreKrausz) August 12, 2019
She said the protests reflected "broad and legitimate concerns about the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy".
"The continued erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy puts at risk its long-established special status in international affairs," the spokeswoman said.
A 1992 US law affords Hong Kong preferential treatment in matters of trade and economics compared with China.
Areas of special treatment include visas, law enforcement and investment.
A prominent US senator warned China on Tuesday Hong Kong could lose its special US trade status if Beijing intervened directly to crack down on increasingly violent pro-democracy protests in the city.
Global News reports a Republican said the Trump administration needed to make clear to Beijing it could face sanctions if it intervened as trade agreements between the US and Hong Kong would be affected.
The increasingly violent protests have plunged the Chinese-ruled territory into its most serious crisis in decades, presenting Chinese leader Xi Jinping with one of his biggest popular challenges since he came to power in 2012.
The protests began in opposition to a now-suspended bill that would have allowed the extradition of suspects for trial in mainland China.
It has swelled into wider calls for democracy, with demonstrators saying they are fighting for the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong when it returned to China in 1997.
Hong Kong chief Carrie Lam announced the suspension of the bill and the intention to withdraw it.
But it is still unclear however whether she will have the power to do so.
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