Tiananmen 'hurdle PLA must jump'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 June, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 June, 1997, 12:00am

The spectre of students being massacred by troops in Tiananmen Square would be 'the hurdle the PLA has got to jump' to gain respect in Hong Kong, the outgoing British military chief said yesterday.

The People's Liberation Army should be given credit for steps already taken to improve its image, but the public would be right to wait to see if promises were fulfilled, said Major-General Bryan Dutton, the Commander British Forces.

He said the mainland soldiers should have little more to do in Hong Kong than demonstrate sovereignty, as the British services now did, and hoped the troops would be wooed by the people and the stability in the territory.

General Dutton said 'the PLA must answer for themselves' though he was impressed with them and said the military transition was proceeding smoothly.

Earlier this year he revealed PLA chiefs had confided their concern that they were known around the world only for their bloody suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Yesterday he gave his strongest signal yet that he not only agreed with the mainland chiefs, but also thought they still had a long way to go. 'I believe the PLA should be given credit for their displayed intent but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating in the months and years to come,' he told a lunch meeting at the Foreign Correspondents' Club.

'[The Tiananmen legacy] is exactly the hurdle the PLA has got to jump.

'The [armed forces] have got to come open-handed and transparent to the Hong Kong people. If they remain isolated then those suspicions will remain.' He said Hong Kong had not yet been informed how and on what date the main body of the PLA would arrive next month.

General Dutton, who will leave Hong Kong on board HMS Chatham in the early hours of July 1, said the British military had an 'excellent working relationship' with the PLA. He believed China's Army was learning fast the realities of Hong Kong, including that there was neither political instability nor a threat to national security here.

General Dutton said the mainlanders also had a sense of humour. When he asked them if it looked strange that one British major-general was being replaced by five PLA officers of the same rank, they jokingly replied that Chinese generals were far cheaper than British ones.