China's President Xi inspects 'hard-working comrades' at Hong Kong's massive military parade

As a part of his landmark visit to the politically divided country, Xi inspected more than 3,000 People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops.

Chinese President Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects troops at the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Hong Kong Garrison as part of events marking the 20th anniversary of the city's handover from British to Chinese rule, in Hong Kong, China June 30, 2017. Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping stood bolt upright and impassive on Friday as he was greeted by a potent military, including chanting troops, tanks and missile launchers, in Hong Kong, the largest military parade in the city since its handover to China in 1997. As a part of his landmark visit to the politically divided country, Xi inspected more than 3,000 People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops.

This latest show of force comes hours after activists were released from police custody after being arrested over a protest. As the jeep slowly drove past row upon row of air, naval and land personnel, Xi, who oversees the PLA in his role as head of the powerful Central Military Commission, 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!" A banner behind the troops read "Fully implementing 'one country, two systems', this great policy", referring to Hong Kong's semi-autonomous set-up. Armoured vehicles topped with missile launchers and military helicopters lined Xi's path along the airstrip for the eight-minute extravaganza.

On Thursday, Xi arrived in the city to mark 20 years since Hong Kong was returned to China by Britain, with authorities desperate to stick to the script during anniversary celebrations.

A huge security operation has shut down large parts of the city, with thousands of police deployed to keep away demonstrators angry at Beijing's tightening grip on the freedoms of nearly eight million people.

China's People's Liberation Army troops were inspected by Xi in rural northern Hong Kong Friday morning. The President, wearing a black Mao suit, rode an open-top camouflage jeep in the largest military parade since the 1997 handover.

When Hong Kong was returned to China, there were fears that the PLA would crack down in the country, especially after the brutal crushing of student protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989. But, it has kept a very low profile.

The PLA is responsible for defending the city and comprises only mainland troops, with Hong Kong residents unable to serve, but it is barred from interfering in local affairs.

As part of the handover deal, Hong Kong was guaranteed rights including freedom of speech and an independent judiciary for 50 years but there are concerns those liberties are disappearing as Beijing becomes ever more assertive.

This three-day visit is Xi's first visit to Hong Kong since he came into powers in 2013. It also comes three years after huge pro-democracy rallies crippled Hong Kong.