Hong Kong handover: No time wasted as forces arrive by land, sea and air

China rushes to establish a military presence within hours of British departure

China wasted no time asserting its newly regained sovereignty over Hong Kong. A seemingly endless line of People's Liberation Army (PLA) vehicles rolled into Hong Kong at dawn this morning, bringing 4,000 troops, a vast arsenal of weapons, and the 21 armoured personnel carriers which Britain failed to convince China were not appropriate for its new territory.

In Shenzhen, on the mainland side of the border, the soldiers were seen off in driving rain by dancing Chinese dragons and flower-waving schoolchildren. Unlike the 509 PLA troops who had crossed three hours before the handover, these troops all openly carried rifles.

At 6am precisely, they started to cross the border at three points. Just inside Hong Kong territory, in the district of Sheung Shui, hundreds of villagers turned out to welcome their new army, despite the appalling weather. A welcoming banner and a mirror were presented to the arrivals, traditional gifts of respect. As they drove further towards their new homes, the route was lined by crowds waving the new Hong Kong Special Administration Region flag.

Earlier, in the middle of the night, the Chinese flag had already been raised in the Prince of Wales barracks right in the heart of Hong Kong island. Ten military ships and sea-going vessels were shown on both mainland and Hong Kong television steaming towards their new berths. Helicopters were ready to fly in.

The Chinese military garrison will consist of 4,700 troops, many more than were stationed in Hong Kong by Britain in the years before the departure. They will occupy the British-built barracks and headquarters in the territory's central financial district as well as taking over a recently constructed naval base custom-built for them.

Clad in newly designed uniforms and armed with rudimentary knowledge of the local Cantonese language as well as English, the PLA garrison is seen as an elite force in Chinese eyes. But they will be paupers by Hong Kong standards as regular soldiers will be earning less than pounds 10 per month, which is the price of a couple of beers in some of the more trendy bars.

As they left Shenzhen, the troops were instructed by General Liu Huaqing, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, to be on their best behaviour. He said: "With your actual deeds you must win the support and love of the Hong Kong people."

Once well respected, the PLA's reputation was severely damaged by its role in the Tiananmen Square massacre. One of the generals commanding the new Hong Kong forces told Bryan Dutton, the outgoing British commander, that he was well aware of the army's need to restore its image and saw the Hong Kong deployment as an opportunity to show the world that they could do so.

Both the size of the garrison and the decision to bring in armoured cars, which could well be used for internal control, have been criticised by the United States and British governments. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said "there is no doubt that China has the right to station units of the PLA in Hong Kong", but he questioned "the scale of the initial deployment" and said that bringing in armoured cars was "unnecessary and inappropriate". China insists that the stationing of troops is entirely a matter of Chinese sovereignty and no one else's business.

At an early stage in the negotiations for the handover, the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping flew into a rage on being told his officials had been sympathetic to British demands for a minimal Chinese military presence in Hong Kong. He insisted that China would maintain a garrison at least as large as Britain's. The troops in Hong Kong are backed up by a sizeable force on China's border which can be mobilised in emergency. All troops in the region have been put on alert during the handover period.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice