28 October 2016
Hong Kong's police have been accused of taking sides in political battles between pro- and anti-Beijing groups. Photo: Reuters
Hong Kong's police have been accused of taking sides in political battles between pro- and anti-Beijing groups. Photo: Reuters

Why worries about police non-neutrality will only grow

Hong Kong’s police force is going down a slippery slope as it sheds its neutrality and aligns itself with the political establishment.

High-handed treatment of pro-democracy activists during last year’s Occupy protests have dented the reputation of the police, which was once seen as Asia’s finest.

Rather than trying to repair the damage, the police now appears to be even more keen to show the public where the loyalties of the disciplinary force lie.

This was evident from a speech made by a union leader Tuesday as the Junior Police Officers’ Association celebrated its 38th anniversary.

Addressing a gathering, the association’s chairman Joe Chan said frontline police officers shouldn’t have to take insults for just doing their duty.

The force finds it difficult to tolerate the charges leveled against it, he said, in an apparent swipe at the anti-establishment camp.

“Do we need to tolerate the nonsense when facing some groups of people?” Chan asked, referencing the events that took place during the 2014 Occupy movement.

That and other comments, delivered before a gathering where the guest of honor was Maria Tam, a member of the Basic Law Committee, made it clear that the police now sees itself as a protector of “national interests”. 

This is not entirely surprising, given the steady erosion of neutrality among the wider civil servant community in recent years, especially after Leung Chun-ying took over as Hong Kong’s leader.

Civil servants have been roped in by the political establishment to show “patriotism” and do their bit to help realize President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream”.

Coming back to Chan’s speech, one could try to defend his comments, arguing that as Hong Kong is now part of China, government servants here have a role in helping Xi realize his Chinese dream.

That may be so, but what the “nationalists” seem to be forgetting is this: It is more important for Hong Kong to uphold its core values, which include a non-political police force, rather than promote Beijing’s interests.

Taking a hostile approach toward anyone holding a standpoint that is different from the government will only weaken the “one country, two systems”. 

The police should remind itself that its job is to maintain order in society without fear or favor and that it should act in a professional manner at all times.

What has happened over the past year is that the force, with encouragement from pro-Beijing groups, has taken an antagonistic stance toward those perceived to be standing up against the establishment. 

The Leung regime will no doubt keep urging the civil servant community, of which the police is a big part, to perform their duties with patriotism on top of the stated goal of professionalism.

The administration has its selfish motives, but shouldn’t our public servants keep their larger work mandate in mind? 

And shouldn’t the officials avoid making remarks that will only deepen people’s doubts about the impartiality of the services?

We urge police union chief Chan, for one, to sit back and reflect.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter