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Beijing’s envoy warns Hong Kong police graduates of ‘hostile forces’

Hong Kong flag (Unsplash)
September 20, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

China’s envoy to Hong Kong has reviewed a police graduation ceremony for the first time, warning new officers of ‘hostile foreign forces’ trying to make a comeback, a sign that analysts said shows that Beijing is now firmly in control when it comes to security matters.

Zheng Yanxiong, who heads the ruling Communist Party’s Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong, reviewed the marching ranks of fresh graduates in a ceremony at the Hong Kong Police College on Saturday.

“Hong Kong is entering a new stage, moving from chaos to order and prosperity,” Zheng said in his keynote address. “Yet there are still hostile foreign forces trying to undermine Hong Kong’s development and stability, and there are also anti-China and Hong Kong elements trying to make a comeback.”

The Chinese and Hong Kong governments have blamed recent waves of mass protest in Hong Kong on incitement by “hostile foreign forces” seeking to foment a “color revolution” in the city.

In August, security chief Chris Tang blamed the mass protest campaign in 2012 by students — some of them still in secondary school — against patriotic education in Hong Kong’s schools, the 2014 Occupy Central movement for fully democratic elections, the 2016 “fishball revolution” in Mong Kok and the 2019 movement against extradition to mainland China on the actions of “foreign forces.”

“Many young people had been radicalized,” said Tang, who was chief of police during the 2019 protests. “External forces were up to the same old tricks again.”

‘Always resolute’

Zheng repeated that theme at the weekend’s ceremony, telling new police college graduates that “the Hong Kong Police Force must be determined … and always resolutely safeguard national security, strictly implement the Hong Kong National Security Law and local laws, and do our best to build a strong line of defense of national security.”

Zheng’s unprecedented appearance at the ceremony comes after the Communist Party assumed more direct control over national security in Hong Kong in July, in a move commentators said is likely also behind recent attempts to pursue the city’s democracy activists overseas and to harass their families.

Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macao Work Office of the Communist Party’s Central Committee is now tasked with “deploying the governing power of the central government” in Hong Kong and “maintaining national security,” under a security law imposed on Hong Kong in July 2020 that criminalizes public criticism of the authorities by anyone, anywhere in the world

The office is also charged with “supporting” the integration of both cities with the rest of China.

Independent political scholar Chen Daoyin said that Beijing, by having Zheng officiate at the police graduation ceremony, appears to be affirming its jurisdiction over Hong Kong.

“In China, only [President] Xi Jinping has the power to review military parades – nobody else is,” Chen said. “Judging on the basis of the relationship between the central government [in Beijing] and Hong Kong, the director of the Central Liaison Office is essentially the supreme leader [in Hong Kong].”

He said Zheng, who won political plaudits for cracking down on the rebel Guangdong village of Wukan amid a bitter land dispute in 2011, comes from a background in law enforcement.

“Zheng Yanxiong is a policeman himself, and his review of the police force sends a message to the rest of the world about who is the highest-ranking leader in Hong Kong,” Chen said.

“[It tells us that] he is the disciplinary power supervising Hong Kong on behalf of the central government.”

‘Political tool’

Zheng’s presence at the parade shows that Beijing is now assuming much more direct control over law enforcement and security in Hong Kong, current affairs commentator Sang Pu said.

“This was not just a ceremonial review,” Sang said. “When he talked about ‘foreign forces’ and rebellious ‘anti-China’ elements, he was giving instructions.”

“We see that it’s the party that is wielding the gun, or the sword, here,” he said. “The Communist Party, or the Liaison Office, is ruling Hong Kong more directly, and will be putting direct pressure on police officers to obey the orders of the Central Committee, through propaganda.”

Exiled former pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui agreed.

“The political messaging here is very strong,” Hui said. “It officially sets a precedent for the Hong Kong police to do political work.” 

“It is a direct recognition of the police force … as a weapon to suppress dissidents, and it describes the targeting of political prisoners as an important national political task.” 

Hui said the messaging effectively gives a green light to the police force to use any and all means to achieve this goal.

“[It means that] the police can use very tough methods to fulfill these tasks and orders,” Hui said. “The Hong Kong police have become a political tool in the hands of Beijing.”