By Yu Dong
BEIJING, July 3 (ChinaMil) -- "On behalf of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Garrison in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), I'm taking over the barracks. You may step down from duty and we will take your place," said Lieutenant Colonel Tan Shan'ai against the sound of the heavy rain.
That was a sentence that ended the century-long shame on China.
On July 1, 1997, the Army, Navy and Air Force of the PLA Hong Kong Garrison entered the Hong Kong SAR by land, sea and air at Sha Tau Kok in the east, Man Kam To and Huanggang Port in the south, and Mawan of Shenzhen's Shekou in the west.
20 years have passed, but Zhang Jie, once an officer from the PLA HK Garrison, still recalls from time to time the day he entered Hong Kong. He sat in a command SUV with two walkie-talkies in hand and the pager and cellphone on his waist, with a cabinet-size radio station on the SUV.
He also remembered how his comrade Song Kaijin was waving a bouquet of velvet flowers continuously to people standing by the two sides of the road, nonstop for more than seven hours.
"The PLA is coming", reported Hong Kong radio stations repeatedly that night, and they predicted that the PLA "will be unaccustomed".
Do in Hong Kong as Hong Kong residents do
It was the first time that the PLA garrisoned a capitalist environment.
"We had to study English and Cantonese and recite the thick collection of Hong Kong laws and regulations," Zhang Jie recalled that in the four years before they went to Hong Kong, they carried out exercises and simulations of possible scenarios over and over, but something unexpected still happened after their arrival.
The PLA garrison was criticized by Hong Kong media less than half a month after they arrived there because their shooting practice started too early. At about 8:00 am on a day in July 1997, soon after a battalion started the real-ammo shooting, Hong Kong police knocked at their door.
"Didn't you register the shooting time as 9:00 am?"
Then an aviation unit's helicopter took off half an hour earlier, and the complaint hotline at the Legal Division of the Garrison never stopped ringing.
We knew that Hong Kong has very strict noise control regulations and the residents mostly go to bed late and get up late, but we "didn't expect that such a small detail would cause so much trouble."
The Hong Kong society looked at this new PLA force with curiosity, doubt and caution. The garrison therefore cancelled the military bugle, and before the annual rotation, they not only put out a notice in advance, but also perform the rotation procedures in the wee hours after the residents all go to bed. The aviation troop unit, which is the big noise maker, is even more cautious.
"We tried all means not to disturb the residents, adjusted our flying time, route and height, carried out the flight between 9:00 and 22:00, and avoided large residential communities as much as possible." Chen Wenxian, political commissar of an aviation unit of the PLA Hong Kong Garrison, told the reporter that Hong Kong has the highest flying density in the world, but flight disturbance of residents cannot be avoided completely.
The rule of law is strictly observed in Hong Kong. According to Jiang Bo, head of the Legal Division of PLA Hong Kong Garrison, about 100 of the more than 800 statutes and 2,000 auxiliary legislations are directly related with the garrison.
Soldiers have to take exams on the Basic Law of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Garrison Law and other local laws and regulations and only those who pass the exams with "excellence" are qualified to garrison the SAR.
In the past 20 years, the collision between the rule of law and habit went far beyond the legal domain.
Tang Cunliang is head of the automobile company at the Shenzhen base. Every time he drives past Xintian, he is very nervous because "the road here is narrow and tortuous and stray dogs and wild birds often appear here." If he isn't careful enough and hits a dog or bird, there may be the headline that "PLA runs over animal".
Likewise, every time Fang Xuegang, deputy head of a naval vessel squad, passes the lightering area, he lets Hong Kong commercial ships go first as long as that doesn't affect navigation safety because leaving the port first means good luck for Hong Kong people.
News adviser Geng Yuanhong and others pay close attention to reports by Hong Kong media every day, especially opinions and suggestions concerning the garrison.
"Jaywalking and littering are against the law in Hong Kong and you may be prosecuted for these and the violations will be kept on record," said Geng.
"In the past 20 years, the PLA Hong Kong garrison organized the entry and exit of Hong Kong for more than 200,000 vehicle-times and 800,000 person-times and the excursion of over 50,000 person-times. It always strictly observed all rules and regulations, and its image as a civilized force has struck root in the hearts of the people," said Yue Shixin, political commissar of the garrison.