On National Security Education Day, Hong Kong Celebrates Police Brutality

After weeks of wall-to-wall advertising, the Hong Kong government celebrated its newly created “National Security Education Day” on Thursday. The New York Times’ Vivian Wang described how the day unfolded:

Teddy bears clad in black police riot gear, on sale for more than $60 apiece. Schoolchildren’s messages of gratitude to the authorities, pasted onto the walls of their schools. Uniformed police officers goose-stepping in formation, accompanied by a counterterrorism drill complete with a helicopter and hostage simulation.

[…] The full day of activities was designed to inculcate young and old with the importance of national security. It had been promoted extensively through street-side banners, front-page advertisements in the city’s newspapers, and even a scrolling digital display on one of Hong Kong’s downtown , among the government’s most concentrated propaganda efforts since the law was enacted last June.

[…] “I especially thank the Hong Kong people,” said Zheng Yanxiong, the security office head. “From being unfamiliar with, guessing about, and waiting and watching for the national security law, they have arrived through a very natural and reasonable process at acceptance, welcoming and support.”

[…] If memories of the counterterrorism demonstration weren’t enough to take home, there were souvenirs available for sale. They included the riot-gear-clad teddy bear, a pair of zip ties strapped to its chest ($62); key chains engraved with crowd-control phrases like “Disperse or we fire” and “Warning: Tear smoke” ($4 each); and a set of 18 three-inch figurines, clutching rifles and shields and bearing police warning flags about illegal assembly (“festive special offer”: $114). [Source]

Despite the wealth of souvenirs to remember the day by, the 88% of Hong Kong residents who were exposed to the more than 10,000 rounds of tear gas fired in 2019 likely need no memorabilia to vividly recall the liberal waving of the “DISPERSE OR WE FIRE” or “WARNING TEAR SMOKE” flags. Neither are they likely to forget the purple national security law violation flag that Hong Kong police have enthusiastically waved, including at entirely peaceful, non-violent demonstrations as recently as last month.

Indeed, the memorabilia sold on Thursday raise the question of what, exactly, is being celebrated on National Security Education Day, if not the police force and its use of force tactics.

At the police academy, Hong Kong Free Press’ Rhea Mogul reported that police staged a Chinese military-style “goose step” march, before performing a mock arrest of a “terrorist” with a gun:

The ceremony began with about two dozen police officers performing Chinese military-style drills and “goose-stepping”, followed by a series of drills in which officers from the Special Duties Unit, the Counter Terrorism Response Unit and the Emergency Police Unit, enacted scenes showcasing the force at work.

Police jumped out of a helicopter to demonstrate the arrest of a “terrorist” with a gun, as other officers on the ground drove around in police cars.

[…] Also on display was police equipment including the cannons used during the months-long 2019 protests.

[…] Several police merchandise items were on sale, such as keychains shaped as tear-gas warning flags. [Source]

Children were given the chance to play with mock-weapons in a subway car, re-creating scenes that some pointed out were sickeningly reminiscent of one of the most infamous events of the 2019 protests.

With more than 10,000 protestors arrested in 2019 and more than 2,500 facing trial, the city’s guards joined with its own show of force performance on Thursday. Hong Kong Free Press’ Selina Cheng reported on a mock riot performance, during which heavily armed guards fended off flip-flops and plastic furniture:

The Correctional Services Department event featured a series of performance, drills, and quiz booths. Officers demonstrated the Chinese military-style goose step marching, as well as showing off the canine unit and the regional response team.

[…] During one of the drills at the training school, correctional officers dressed in thick padded suits played the role of inmates involved in a prison riot that erupted after they quarrelled over a game. The “inmates” hurled slippers and plastic furniture at anti-riot officers as they hit each other with canes. Officers regained control by spraying fluids and firing stun shots that imitated tear gas. [Source]

Naturally, a city-wide “education day” would be focused on schools. The city introduced comprehensive guidance earlier this year for teaching the Hong Kong National Security Law in its schools, with lessons starting for students as young as six. On Thursday, schools took part in flag ceremonies and encouraged students to share what “national security” meant to them:

Educators have come under intense political pressure since the passing of the National Security Law. The Financial Times’ Primrose Riordan and Nicolle Liu interviewed several teachers about the effect of the law on their work:

Teachers are “worried that if a parent quotes us out of context or just distorts a message from a single screenshot of our class they capture”, their jobs, and even their freedom, could hang in the balance, she said. “It feels like there is a noose over my head.”

[…] One primary school principal said they had asked librarians to check all books in the school that mentioned China in case one could be interpreted the wrong way. Secondary schools would now be wary of having books on Tiananmen, for example, she said.

[…] A school administrator who identified herself as Ms Choi said the bureau had asked her to supply information on teachers’ criminal records and for a register of newly hired staff. The government was trying to guarantee “nobody with any political ideas would ever enter a school campus”, she said. [Source]

As ’s Tony Cheung and Natalie Wong reported, the city’s top brass were eager to seize the day to repudiate the foreign forces apparently destabilizing the city:

Luo Huining, director of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, also said it was every Hong Kong resident’s responsibility to protect the city’s stability, as they had paid a heavy price during the social unrest of 2019.

[…] “Now with the laws, mechanisms and manpower in place, the rest comes down to enforcement and implementation … It is the collective responsibility of the [city’s] executive authorities, legislature and the to safeguard national security,” he said, adding Beijing would help Hong Kong authorities perform the task.
“Any attempt by foreign countries and external forces to flagrantly interfere in the affairs of Hong Kong, and to exploit Hong Kong as a pawn will be met with impactful countermeasures so that they will learn a lesson,” he added. [Source]

Authorities in China also took advantage of the day to announce the arrest of journalists and students on the mainland who had shown sympathy towards the Hong Kong protestors.

Perhaps reaping the greatest benefit from the day is the police force. Despite consistently ranking as the least popular of the city’s disciplinary forces last year, the force has gained new powers under the National Security Law, a massive budget increase, and now a day dedicated to celebrating its role in safeguarding the city.

On Thursday, police chief Tang echoed Luo’s sentiment about repelling foreign forces from the city. After his U.S.-trained officers, wearing U.S.-made gear and bearing U.S.-produced guns completed their goose step march, he accused the U.S. of creating a security threat in Hong Kong.

In an exclusive interview with South China Morning Post’s Christy Leung, John Lee, Hong Kong’s top security official emphasized that the police remain entirely politically neutral:

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu insisted national security police’s sweeping new powers for vetting candidates did not contradict the force’s political neutrality, arguing that the system was meant to weed out “traitors” and enable Hong Kong to thrive without government time being wasted on tackling legislative chaos and sabotage.

“[Police’s political] neutrality basically means that when we enforce the law, we don’t look at what party you are with and what political ideas you are holding. We only look at whether you break any law,” Lee told the Post in an exclusive interview. [Source]

Under Hong Kong’s overhauled political election system, the national security police are responsible for vetting and determining the eligibility of political candidates.

Still, even as the police remain steadfastly politically neutral, as Bloomberg News’ Iain Marlow and Stephen Engle reported last month, the top brass has been eager to share its views on foreign policy:

“Do not tempt the law — it’s simple,” Oscar Kwok, the Hong Kong Police Force’s deputy commissioner for management, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

[…] In a wide-ranging interview, Kwok defended the Hong Kong Police Force, saying the arrests were necessary because the city faces pressing national security threats, including from the U.S. The Biden administration has tightened on mainland and Hong Kong officials on allegations they undermined the former British colony’s autonomy — as promised ahead of the 1997 handover.

“There are countries on Earth whose basic DNA is aggressive,” he said. “I’m talking about the United States. And I think it’s also clearly stated what their intent is, OK? To suppress the development of China. It’s an open secret.” [Source]

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