Peking's supertroops ready to go

Is it Superman? Is it a cat burglar? No, it's a soldier of the People's Liberation Army, ready for his posting to Hong Kong.

After a year of special training, the mainland troops destined for the PLA's Hong Kong garrison have been equipped with skills which appear to go beyond the expected call of duty.

The official China Daily yesterday announced: "Climbing to the top of a four-storey building in 12 seconds, not by the stairs but up the outside wall, aided only by safety ropes, is a requirement for every soldier."

Should any of these nimble soldiers be tempted by a life of crime, there should be no problem with the getaway car. "All drivers with the garrison must be able to squeeze through the crowded streets of Hong Kong in a right-hand drive vehicle, sometimes at speed, without violating any traffic rules," said the China Daily. This will be something of a novelty for military drivers who, clearly identifiable in China by their white number plates, are notorious on the mainland for disregarding all traffic regulations at will.

Language training in Cantonese and English, as well as lessons in Hong Kong's customs, lifestyles and manners have been part of the rigorous preparation.

All this is not so amusing for Hong Kong people, for whom the thought of thousands of mainland soldiers moving into the territory is unnerving, to say the least. They are there, in theory, to safeguard national sovereignty, and when requested by the Hong Kong government to help maintain public order or provide disaster relief.

Hong Kong people are most worried, however, by clauses in the mainland's Garrison Law, passed on 30 December, which mean on-duty PLA personnel and vehicles cannot be inspected by Hong Kong police, and will come under the jurisdiction of China's Supreme People's Court if they commit civil offences.