China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers have appeared in shorts and T-shirts in Hong Kong streets, helping residents clean up debris from anti-government protests, in a rare and highly symbolic troop movement unsolicited by the city's embattled government.
Scores of soldiers from the garrison, which is confined to the barracks under Hong Kong's mini-constitution, sported crewcuts and identical gym kits as they conducted a rapid removal of bricks and debris near their base.
Confirming the brief clean-up on Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media platform, the PLA said it acted to open a debris-strewn road outside their Kowloon Tong barracks to traffic, winning "applause from residents" in the process.
Chinese state media has repeatedly warned that troops could be deployed to quell an unprecedented crisis in the semi-autonomous city that has entered its sixth month.
Chinese troops have appeared on streets only once since the 1997 handover, to help clear up after a typhoon in 2018.
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than five months of demonstrations by protesters angry at perceived Communist Party meddling in the former British colony, which was guaranteed its freedoms when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Beijing denies interfering and has blamed the unrest on foreign influences.
Clashes between protesters and police have become increasingly violent. China has said any attempt at independence for Hong Kong will be crushed, but troops have remained inside their base.
A spokesman for Hong Kong's embattled government said the troop movement had not been requested by city authorities but was instead a "voluntary community activity initiated by themselves".
But their appearance on Hong Kong's streets also raised tensions in a city rocked by a week of intensified violence and chaos.