‘Hello, chairman’: Hong Kong PLA troops break tradition with new greeting for President Xi Jinping

During his inspection of the city’s PLA garrison on Friday, troops offered the visiting president a more personalised welcome, setting him apart from other military commanders

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 June, 2017, 1:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 June, 2017, 11:04pm

Soldiers at Hong Kong People’s Liberation Army garrison broke with a tradition dating back more than 30 years to offer a more personalised welcome to President Xi Jinping during his inspection on Friday.

Instead of shouting “hello, commander”, as would be the usual case at official inspections, PLA troops instead shouted “hello, chairman” – a welcome that has never been heard at such an event.

Analysts believed the new greeting was a gesture by the PLA to assert its sovereignty in the city, as well as an oath of loyalty to Xi. “Chairman” in the greeting refers to Xi’s role as head of the all-powerful Central Military Commission.

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The special arrangement underscores the significance of the event and is expected to be followed in inspections in the future, according retired PLA major general Xu Guangyu.

“It’s a special event, Hong Kong is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the handover and Xi is visiting there. I personally see it as a way to let Xi feel closer to the forces,” Xu said.

Any general could be called a commander, but the new slogan can’t be chanted to anyone else but Xi
Chen Daoyin, political scientist

“[The slogan] could be used to greet Xi and the rest can be greeted as ‘commanders’ in general.”

The PLA follows strict protocol in inspections, stipulated in a set of official rules called the formation regulations. During an inspection, the commander should greet the soldiers with “hello, comrades” or “comrades, you have been working hard”, and then the force should respond with “hello, commander” or “service for the people”, according to the regulations.

The slogans, first used by state leader Deng Xiaoping in 1984, were the only ones heard in all military inspections known to the public.

The new greeting is more personalised and are intended to emphasis Xi’s consolidated power in the PLA, said Chen Daoyin, a political scientist with the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

“Any general could be called a commander, but the new slogan can’t be chanted to anyone else but Xi,” Chen said.

“It shows he has successfully consolidated his power after two years of overhaul of the PLA, as they put it, all actions are at the command of Chairman Xi,” he said.

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While the PLA could adopt the slogan later, as Xi is expected to inspect the PLA again to mark the 90th anniversary of the army’s foundation in August, the decision to begin the practice in Hong Kong is no coincidence, Chen said. He believes the demonstration of the army’s loyalty to Xi in Hong Kong is also a reminder of Beijing’s power in the city.

“It’s also gesture to assert China’s sovereignty in the city. Beijing has recently attached great emphasis on challenges by the city’s pro-independence sentiment,” Chen said.

During Xi’s visit to Hong Kong, he is accompanied by the PLA’s top general Fan Changlong. Fan is the most senior PLA general to visit the city since the handover in 1997.