President Xi Jinping today inspected 20 squads of the People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong at the biggest military parade since the city’s handover to China – marking 20 years since the army was first stationed here in 1997. Xi – who is also chairman of the PLA’s top brass, the Central Military Commission – further inspected a newly established unit, the logistical support troops from the garrison’s Shenzhen base. During the previous parade, which was held in 2012 for the 15th anniversary of the handover at the barracks on Stonecutters Island, or Ngong Shuen Chau, Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao inspected 15 squads. Although the garrison’s home in Shek Kong is also an air force base, there was no aerobatics display on Friday’s programme due to security reasons, according to a source close to the garrison. “No aircraft are allowed to fly in the sky above Shek Kong because of air control during the parade,” the source, who requested anonymity, told the South China Morning Post . But the parade made full use of the base’s military runway to showcase all 20 squads, alongside a range of weapons and equipment. Xi rode a vehicle bearing plate number ZG2017, with “ZG” standing for “Zhongguo”, Putonghua for China, and “2017” for the current year. Similarly, local garrison chief Tan Benhong’s vehicle plate read ZG1997, referring to the year of the handover. The Hong Kong garrison has previously held four public military parades: in 1998 to celebrate the first anniversary of the handover; in 2004 to celebrate the 77th anniversary of the military; in 2007 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the handover; and in 2012. ‘Hello, chairman’: Hong Kong PLA troops break tradition with new greeting for President Xi Jinping Inclusion of logistics troops from the Shenzhen base indicates that the garrison, announced as part of the PLA Southern Theatre Command, is no longer just a symbol of sovereignty but a combat-ready force capable of demonstrating China’s military might. A notable moment was when soldiers from the 20 squads shouted “hello, chairman” instead of the traditional “hello, leader” when Xi was inspecting them. The “hello, leader” slogan had been used since 1984, when paramount leader Deng Xiaoping inspected the national day military parade in Tiananmen Square. The parade featured 60 armoured vehicles, 61 types of vehicles specialising in surveillance, command, communications, defence, engineering, missile delivery, interference, and field rescue and prevention, and 12 different military helicopters – including the Z-8 and Z-9. Other highlights included the garrison’s special forces troops, the elite squad. The team was recently given the honorary title of “the model special operation company of the Hong Kong garrison” by Xi in his capacity as Central Military Commission chairman and commander-in-chief of China’s armed forces. The special task force has been dubbed “the tip of a pointed knife”, or “the best of the best”, by mainland media. PLA staffers put on a charm offensive for visiting journalists despite the tense atmosphere surrounding a visit by the president. “Today is very hot, what a hard day for you,” a navy officer, whose uniform covered him from head to toe, said to reporters in the local language of Cantonese, rather than the national tongue of Putonghua. Another media officer was busy showing journalists the weapons along the 2km runway after Xi left, telling reporters which ones were new and should be photographed. The garrison has conducted increasingly complex military exercises since the Occupy movement in 2014, according to an annual report from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission to the United States Congress in November. In July 2015, the garrison allowed local media to witness a full-scale military exercise at the Castle Peak Range for the first time – days after Beijing passed a sweeping and controversial national security law. Political analysts said the display was aimed at highlighting the garrison’s other mission – to deter Hong Kong independence. In November last year, garrison personnel took part in their first joint military exercise overseas, teaming up with their Malaysian counterparts in a four-day drill. The exercise demonstrated the garrison’s integration with the Southern Theatre Command operation, which oversees the security of the South China Sea.