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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor