- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 1, 2007

HONG KONG — Chinese leader Hu Jintao inspected hundreds of troops gripping their rifles yesterday in Hong Kong, and democracy protesters scuffled with police as the former British colony prepared to mark the 10th anniversary of its return to China.

The display of military force, which also included helicopters and ships, was just one of many events to pump up patriotic feelings ahead of the celebration today.

Before Mr. Hu joined a dinner banquet at a luxury hotel, about 100 protesters demanding more democracy for Hong Kong tried to march to the venue but were stopped a few blocks away by a wall of police. Chanting “Power to the people” and “Build a democratic China,” the marchers tried to push their way through with little success.

Since British rulers left on July 1, 1997, China has tried to encourage people here to consider themselves Chinese citizens — not “Hong Kongers” distinct from their mainland compatriots. A fireworks show tonight is expected to spell out “Chinese people” in red pyrotechnics over the city’s famous harbor.

But a survey by the University of Hong Kong said this month that 55 percent of the respondents identified themselves as “Hong Kong citizens” or “Chinese Hong Kong citizens.”

Mr. Hu said yesterday that all Hong Kongers “should follow the call of loving the motherland and loving Hong Kong, close ranks, uphold China’s national interests.”

Earlier, he visited a naval base and strolled past a long line of 800 officers and troops in snappy white, blue and camouflage green uniforms. As a marching band played, Mr. Hu yelled, “Comrades, you’ve been working hard,” and the men shouted back, “We serve the people.”

Before the transfer, there were worries that Hong Kong would be overrun with Chinese soldiers who would help stifle dissent in the freewheeling city.

The fears were fed by the memory of troops and tanks crushing the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in Beijing. That crackdown — which killed hundreds, possibly thousands — horrified many Hong Kongers, who sympathized with the demonstrators and donated money and supplies.

But since the transfer, the Chinese soldiers based in Hong Kong are rarely seen on the streets in uniform. During holidays and other special occasions, they organize public military displays on their bases, and people stand in long lines to get tickets for the events.

Mr. Hu planned to leave today before pro-democracy groups hold an annual street protest in the afternoon. The activists and lawmakers are demanding the right for Hong Kong voters to directly elect their leader and entire legislature.

After 156 years of British rule, the plan was for Hong Kong to return to China under a “one country, two systems” formula. Beijing promised to allow the territory to remain capitalist and keep the legal system and civil liberties it enjoyed during the British era.

But like the British, the new Chinese rulers have declined to give Hong Kong full democracy. The leader is selected by an 800-member committee dominated by figures loyal to Beijing. Only half of the legislature is directly elected; the other half is chosen by professional and special-interest groups.

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