Beijing sends army on HK charm offensive

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The Independent Online

Chinese troops led a display of military might through the streets of Hong Kong yesterday in a bid to boost the appeal of pro-Beijing candidates before legislative elections next month.

Chinese troops led a display of military might through the streets of Hong Kong yesterday in a bid to boost the appeal of pro-Beijing candidates before legislative elections next month.

Despite the sweltering heat, about 27,000 people turned out to watch the 3,000 soldiers marching crisply in their green uniforms to mark the 77th anniversary of the creation of the People's Liberation Army.

Beijing hoped to use the celebrations to soothe lingering political tensions in the former British colony, whose population has frequently voiced its discontent with the Chinese regime since it took power in 1997. Hong Kong's people accuse Beijing of failing to give them the democracy and the Western-style civil rights they were guaranteed when the hand-over took place.

China's parliament tightened its grip on Hong Kong's seven million people in April, banning direct elections for the city's leader in 2007, even though its mini-constitution allowed that possibility.

The Hong Kong and Beijing governments are worried that voters will side with anti-government, pro-democracy candidates when they have the chance to vote for Legislative Council members on 12 September.

Fearing it could lose control of the city if pro-democracy forces win the vote, Beijing abruptly changed tack a few months ago and extended olive branches to the democracy camp and even suggested face-to-face meetings.

The army invited all of Hong Kong's pro-democracy councillors to the parade in a move regarded by many as a conciliatory gesture to those China sees as troublemakers.

The army's show of Chinese patriotism certainly appealed to some. Hong Kong's top opposition leader, Yeung Sum, watched the parade with eight of his Democratic Party colleagues. "They are well-trained and disciplined and leave us with a lasting impression," he acknowledged.

But however impressed he may have been by yesterday's military spectacle, Mr Yeung did not see Beijing's move as a breakthrough in its relations with Hong Kong's opposition.

"This is just a ceremony and not real communication," he said, adding that councillors had no chance to talk with mainland officials at the event.

He said he hoped the opposition will be able to visit Beijing and hold discussions with leaders there after the elections later this year.

Ma Lik, the leader of the top pro-Beijing party, said the central government is sincere in its desire to improve communication with the Democratic Party.

"But this has to be done step by step, not overnight," said Mr Ma, the chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong. "This will be good for Hong Kong's stability and social harmony."

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