HONG KONG, June 30 (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping stood bolt upright and impassive on Friday as he inspected more than 3,000 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops in Hong Kong, the largest military parade in the city since its handover to China in 1997.
Xi, who oversees the PLA in his role as head of the powerful Central Military Commission, repeatedly shouted, “Hello comrades!” and “Comrades, you are working hard!” into four microphones fixed atop his motorcade as martial music blared in the background.
The troops, divided into squadrons of 20, responded in unison: “Hail to you chief!” and “Serve the people!”
Xi’s visit to the Shek Kong barracks in a quiet and lush corner of Hong Kong’s New Territories came on the second day of his first trip as president to the financial hub, where he is marking the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule.
He will oversee the swearing-in of Hong Kong’s new leader, Carrie Lam, on Saturday.
Xi and invitation-only guests were treated to troops parading in immaculate uniforms and a military display that included Z8 helicopters, mobile air defence missile trucks, armoured cars and light tanks.
His visit comes amid heightened tensions between China and Hong Kong, where many people are concerned at what they perceive to be increasing interference by Beijing in the city’s affairs.
Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees wide-ranging freedoms and judicial independence unseen in mainland China.
More than 100,000 people took to the streets in 2014 to protest against Beijing’s refusal to allow full democracy.
The battle for full democracy in Hong Kong has been a defining issue for the city of 7.3 million. It has sown distrust between China and Hong Kong, polarized politics, hampered governance and stoked mass protests.
The presence of the PLA in the city has long been one of the most sensitive parts of the city’s reversion to Chinese rule, but the garrison has kept a noticeably low-key presence.
Hong Kong’s large and well-equipped police force - dominated by Hong Kong recruits - remains responsible for routine domestic security and was protecting the streets surrounding the base on Friday.
Xi’s formal inspection echoed that performed by his predecessor, Hu Jintao, at the same Shek Kong airfield five years ago.
Standing before a bank of microphones in an open-car in sweltering temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius