We love you, Chinese troops tell Hong Kong

Peking propaganda: People's Army singalong will be part of attempt to reassure colony
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The Independent Online
It should have been the plum posting for any ambitious People's Liberation Army soldier.

If yesterday's pledges from Peking are to be believed, however, the thousands of mainland soldiers destined to be garrisoned in Hong Kong after 30 June 1997 are in for a hard slog.

They can look forward to planting trees, dredging rivers, studying "life" in the colony, holding singalong sessions to proclaim: "I love you, Hong Kong" - and doing an awful lot of reading.

After they arrive, they will not be allowed off base except on official duties "and in an organised manner". And, lest Hong Kong is concerned about the appearance of the mainland troops heading their way, they are all well-groomed, and tall by Chinese standards: the male soldiers will all be over 5ft 5in and the women at least 5ft 3in, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Such is the sensitivity of a PLA garrison being stationed in Hong Kong after sovereignty reverts to China next year that the mainland propaganda machine has gone into overdrive in an attempt to reassure the population. Yesterday, in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone bordering the colony, the soldiers put on a flawless display for members of the Sino-Hong Kong Preparatory Committee, the mainland-appointed body that will oversee China's preparations for 1997.

It showed just the sort of things to put Hong Kong people's minds at rest: stunningly co-ordinated crack marksmen shooting the heads off targets, athletic, aggressive troops storming buildings, tanks being blown up and so on.

The image presented by the Peking-controlled newspapers in the colony was rather more benign. Ta Kung Pao newspaper said top of the list of songs adored by the soldiers was "I love you Hong Kong".

Xinhua also emphasised that all the hand-picked soldiers have at least senior middle school education, and that most speak English or Cantonese as well as Mandarin Chinese. During training in Shenzhen, they have been studying the "laws, life and social customs" of their future home. "Reading has become an important part of our daily life," one soldier told China Daily.

Another promised reporters: "We won't go to saloons, we won't go to bars, we won't go to karaoke parlours." They might not be able to afford the night life in any case: one Peking-run daily said an army commander in Hong Kong would be paid less than pounds 100 a month.