Landed with the task of staging the biggest international security operation of the year, Hong Kong's finest are not going to pass up the chance to show off their skills and organisation to the world. Thousands of foreign dignitaries, and especially Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Premier Li Peng, must know their safety is assured. They must also know the local force is up to the task of guarding them without help from outside. But China's elite bodyguard units have a different agenda. The detail from the Central Guards Bureau (CGB) - a Communist Party organisation under the People's Liberation Army's general staff department - is there chiefly to protect its charges. Hence the pressure - successfully resisted so far - to let CGB security men carry guns. They are professionally wary of the local police guards. Lesser Chinese VIPs would normally be guarded by the People's Armed Police (PAP) which has at least had contacts with the Hong Kong police over the past few years and probably knows the lie of the land in Hong Kong. Some security analysts even argue that the PAP already has well-entrenched undercover operatives here, who are probably known to the local police - even if their unofficial presence rules out direct liaison over the Chinese leaders' security. But the elite CGB bodyguards assigned to the most senior officials and members of the Central Military Commission have less experience of Hong Kong. They will be more concerned about the loyalty and reliability of what another analyst called 'a police force that will still be wearing British colonial uniforms'. At the handover only the insignia are to be changed, with a swift swapping of Velcro-attached badges. 'The Hong Kong police are well trained in riot control and with all the mod cons and paraphernalia of a well-equipped security force, but there are still a large number of expatriate officers in the higher echelons who cannot be regarded as 100 per cent loyal to the new order,' an analyst said. Britain's swift agreement to the entry of more PLA troops lends credibility to the claim that the request for them came direct from President Jiang's office. It was prompted less by concern for presidential security than by the realisation that his own presence required a bit more of a show. The PLA would readily have backed his request. Despite early reports linking the two arguments, Britain's reluctance to allow armed soldiers to enter Hong Kong before the handover was a separate issue from whether President Jiang's bodyguards should be armed. 'The issue there [on the advance party] is not security but who is in charge,' said Wayne Wilcox, a Hong Kong-based security consultant with experience of VIP protection for the United States government in China and South Korea. 'Look at it from the British commander's view. You don't want an armed military force on your territory that doesn't answer to you. It's a matter of sovereignty too.' Other analysts agreed. One said: 'Marching in before midnight is political, it's not military. The garrison's role here is symbolic anyway.' Symbolic or not, it was in line with Britain's own proposal to accept the arrival of a limited number of troops on condition they left their armoured vehicles behind and their arms were locked away until after the handover. Foreign Office spokesman Bill Dickson's claim that 'Britain is responsible for the defence of Hong Kong, right up to the last stroke of midnight on June 30' would otherwise have sounded a little hollow. How could Britain have asserted sole sovereignty with a rival army deployed in Hong Kong three hours before that deadline? The agreement left the British Army in charge, although inept public relations still made Britain look as though it had capitulated. Police commanders would be just as reluctant as their military counterparts to allow armed guards who were not answerable to them to take part in a massive security operation. It would be dangerous and a logistical nightmare to have two separate groups guarding the Chinese leadership. And, unlike the British Army, the Hong Kong police will still be here serving the new government when the dignitaries have gone. Hong Kong has a long-standing rule that foreign leaders designated by the United Nations as Internationally Protected Persons (IPPs) are welcome to bring their own unarmed bodyguards, but only the local VIP protection unit is allowed to carry weapons. Chinese leaders' ingrained distrust of British motives, plus their doubts about Hong Kong police, explains why local commanders have been so keen to highlight their own competence. Assistant police commissioner Dick Lee Ming-kwai said last week: 'China's president, Jiang Zemin, will be given the highest level of protection.' The handover operation chief of the VIP Protection Unit, superintendent Mike Demaid-Groves, went out of his way at the weekend to give assurances that the team had the training, manpower and dedication to deal with the large number of foreign dignitaries expected. The reasons for his frankness are plain: China has a less relaxed security culture and its top leaders are said to be 'paranoid about security'. Mr Wilcox, the security consultant, said: 'There is no doubt their people would like Hong Kong to be more heavy-handed. 'The main challenge for the Hong Kong police is to show that they are in charge even after midnight on June 30. They are keen to show they can handle Hong Kong's security without the [mainland] Chinese.'