China puts on military display amid heightened Hong Kong tension

‘Comrades, you are diligent and hard working’: Xi Jinping inspects troops

People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops stand in formation  at the Shek Kong Barracks in Hong Kong on Friday. Photograph: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops stand in formation at the Shek Kong Barracks in Hong Kong on Friday. Photograph: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

 

Chinese president Xi Jinping inspected thousands of People’s Liberation Army troops at the Shek Kong barracks in Hong Kong on Friday in a powerful display of military might ahead of the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover to China in 1997.

In a parade similar to Communist Party displays of authority in Beijing, Mr Xi, who is also head of the military, stood to attention in a jeep as he inspected the troops, shouting “Comrades!” and “Comrades, you are diligent and hard-working” as he drove past.

The troops in formations of 20 replied, “Hail to you chief,” and “Serve the people.”

The display of military muscle, which also included Z8 helicopters, missile trucks, armoured cars and tanks, comes against a background of increased tensions between Hong Kong and China.

The PLA garrison was one of the most potent symbols of China’s arrival during the handover process. There are believed to be up to 10,000 troops in the facility, including special forces soldiers, and it adopts a very low-key presence.

A crowd of around 4,000 handpicked observers, including representatives from civic groups and scouts, watched the event.

China’s sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is also due in Hong Kong for the handover anniversary celebrations.

Many in the former Crown colony believe Beijing is interfering in Hong Kong’s business more and more.

For its part, Beijing insists it is keeping to the terms of the “One Country, Two Systems” model agreed before the reversion to Chinese rule on July 1st 1997.

Much to China’s irritation, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate for greater democracy in the Umbrella Protests of 2014.

Chris Patten, who was Hong Kong’s last British governor, said the way China observes the one country, two systems model would be a test case for whether people could trust China and its foreign policy going forward.

“If you can’t trust them in Hong Kong, then it raises questions about where you can trust them,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

He also said that there needed to be more democracy in Hong Kong.

“It’s not just older people but it’s younger people like Joshua Wong and his generation who feel passionately about freedom and they should be represented in the government of Hong Kong,” said Mr Patten.

“They usually win a majority in elections but the elections are limited in what they can achieve,” he said.

Mr Xi also visited the Junior Police Call (JPC) permanent activity centre and integrated youth training camp at Pat Heung. On Saturday, Mr Xi will attend a ceremony for the swearing-in of Hong Kong’s new chief executive, Carrie Lam.

A group of 26 people, including young activist leader Joshua Wong, have been released on bail after they were detained on Wednesday trying to drape in black the Golden Bauhinia statue given to Hong Kong by China. The activists have not been charged but are required to report back to police in September.