Hong Kong handover: Chinese troops roll in to welcome

Click to follow
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) crossed into Hong Kong yesterday at dawn to receive an extraordinarily warm welcome from village and town people living near the border.

In Sheung Shui, the first major settlement across the border from China, crowds waved flags, cheered and clapped enthusiastically as open-topped trucks filled with smiling and waving soldiers drove by at slow speed. The officers were garlanded with flowers by local representatives and presented with a plaque reading: "powerful and civilised army".

As 21 armoured cars crawled through the centre of town, the roadside crowd gave an even bigger cheer - even though these were similar to the vehicles used to crush protesters in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Liu Sau-Lan, an elderly villager, said: "Why should I be afraid of soldiers of our own country? They are here to defend and protect us."

As the heavens opened, drenching the onlookers, loudspeakers blared out revolutionary and patriotic music from the early revolutionary and cultural revolution period.

Yau Mei-Siu, a middle-aged housewife, said she had got up at 4am to greet the soldiers. "We're becoming part of China, so we are welcoming our own soldiers. I wanted to see what they look like."

There was no sign of the considerable controversy which has hitherto surrounded the 4,700-strong Chinese garrison in Hong Kong. But the rural areas are traditionally more sympathetic to China than some of the urban centres.

Elsewhere, a fleet of 10 ships arrived carrying a naval detachment. The five-star Chinese flag was raised over the former British military headquarters in Hong Kong's financial district at the stroke of midnight.