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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Executive is required to...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£65000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A long-established, tech...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders