JUNE 23, 1997
The British Britannia sails into a Hong Kong harbor, charged with taking Prince Charles and the city's last British governor home, and signaling that the transition to Chinese control is near.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, preparing for the Hong Kong handover. Ian Williams of Independent Television News reports.
IAN WILLIAMS, ITN: The royal yacht steamed into Hong Kong waters this morning. The royal Navy guiding her through the world's busiest harbor. One week today--minutes after power's been handed to China--she'll carry Prince Charles and Governor Chris Patton away from Hong Kong for the last time on what will also be the Britannia's last major voyage. She docked beside a British military barracks, which is already being shared with an advance party from the People's Liberation Army, a contingent to be boosted by several hundred, ahead of the formal handover of power. The PLA advanced party already numbers around 200 men, but a forenight ago China suddenly demanded more be allowed in early, a move believed to be linked to Chinese President Jiang Zemin's plans to attend the handover. After initially rejecting this as a breach of sovereignty, Britain today agreed they can come three hours before midnight on the 30th, a concession that alarmed legislators.
CHRISTINE LOH, Independent Legislator: The PLA, they are coming, whether they come slightly before or slightly after, in effect, they are coming, but what people are concerned about is, well--are we going to keep re-negotiating everything?
IAN WILLIAMS: The PLA Hong Kong garrison has been trained, and until the handover is based in the border city of Shenzhen. Five hundred of them in thirty-nine vehicles will be allowed to cross into Hong Kong at 9 o'clock in the evening of the handover. They will be allowed to bring light arms. The main contingent of a garrison that will eventually number around 10,000 will march into Hong Kong soon after midnight, a spectacle that's caused deep disquiet in some border communities.
That disquiet stems from attempts by the pro-China authorities in Hong Kong's Northern district to persuade children as young as six to line the streets in the early hours of the morning and cheer the PLA. Schools have distributed invitations to parents, asking them to bring their children to shake flags at the arriving soldiers. Sara Liu is among those outraged at what she sees as an attempt to manipulate the children, including her 10-year-old, for political ends. She complains that the authorities are trying to mimic the way celebrations are orchestrated on the mainland and has told the school she won't go along with it.
SARA LIU, Parent: (speaking through interpreter) Parents think it's crazy. They won't agree with it, and they won't let their children join in.
IAN WILLIAMS: That's been echoed by the colony's biggest teaching union, which also objects to schoolchildren being asked to turn out in the middle of the night.
CHEUNG MAN KWONG, Chairman, Teachers' Union: I think it's totally not suitable for the student to do so, and I don't think the headmaster of the school should have such activities in their school in the midnight.
IAN WILLIAMS: The anger also stems in part from a deep suspicion of the PLA after the Tiananmen Square massacre, which provoked outrage in Hong Kong. Twenty-five schools have issued the invitations, but school principals have been stung by the criticism and don't expect a big turnout. They do insist attendance is strictly voluntary, and that their motives are honorable.
POON HUN WAI, Secondary School Principal: The PLA coming to Hong Kong are expressly trained to take over the safety of Hong Kong in 1997 and for the years after 1997. And that I think is a good opportunity for the students to see in front of their own eyes about how the PLA behaves when they are crossing the border.
IAN WILLIAMS: Especially trained or not, the PLA will now be in Hong Kong in their hundreds will before the Britannia sets sail. And it could well be that Britain was given very little choice in the matter. It may only be a question of hours, but the decision to allow more PLA troops to arrive early and armed is a major climb-down by Britain, which had always seen this as a fundamental issue of sovereignty. It's left many people here wondering how many other fundamental issues Britain may be flexible on.