Whenever Chinese state officials pay a visit to Hong Kong, you can bet your bottom dollar that authorities here will pull out all the stops to make sure duty visits made by their superiors will be as smooth and hassle-free as possible.
National People’s Congress Standing Committee Chairman Zhang Dejiang’s recent “inspection trip” to the Special Administrative Region (SAR) shows there is certainly no exception to this hard-and-fast rule.
But what I found absolutely astonishing were the extreme lengths taken by the Hong Kong government to foil any potential menace against their VIP.
Ahead of this visit, pavement tiles were super-glued to the ground to prevent anyone who might have had the audacity to rip them out and hurl them at Zhang.
Cops kept watch high up on Lion Rock just in case someone unfurled pro-democracy banners which would make Beijing and the Hong Kong government lose face.
Even then, they still failed to prevent activists from hanging a banner advocating universal suffrage.
Streets surrounding Zhang’s hotel and the Convention and Exhibition Center were strictly off-limits, sealed off with massive water-filled plastic barriers to ensure no-one could get anywhere near him.
That’s not all.
The security detail designated for China’s No. 3 official initially consisted of 6,000 police officers.
That was later beefed up to 8,000 cops. This makes the whole security detail for this trip the biggest ever for a state official visiting Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Police Force comprises 28,705 officers.
In other words, almost a third of the entire force was tasked with making sure that Zhang, who oversees Hong Kong and Macau affairs, didn’t suffer any embarrassment.
The phrase “over the top” immediately came to my mind when I first heard about the drastic measures taken by the government to ensure Zhang Dejiang’s “safety”.
Granted, he is no small fry but was it really necessary to deploy 8,000 police officers for his visit to Hong Kong?
We’re not talking about a head of state here.
Speaking of heads of state, less than half that number — 3,000 police officers — were deployed when then president Hu Jintao visited the SAR in 2012.
About 4,600 police officers will be deployed in Hiroshima, Japan when Barack Obama will make the first-ever visit to the prefecture by a sitting US president later this month.
So it turns out that the head of China’s parliament had more police protection in Hong Kong than what is being assigned to the leader of the world’s most powerful country for his upcoming visit to Hiroshima.
One local newspaper quoted a police source who justified the unprecedented operation on the basis that neglecting pro-independence protesters and their actions during Zhang’s visit could be as severe as neglecting the risk of a terrorist attack.
The real “threat” which has got the government hot under the collar is not that of a terrorist attack.
Rather, it is the political backlash against Beijing that worries the administration.
That is why it resorted to radical actions to cover up any form of dissent and avoid any embarrassment.
At the start of his three-day charm offensive, Zhang Dejiang attempted to strike a conciliatory tone by claiming that he would listen to all sides.
He insisted he would hear people’s views on the implementation of the “one country, two systems” arrangement, a constitutional principle which is supposed to guarantee Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy.
But as with the whole inspection trip, everything was orchestrated, including his supposed olive branch.
The mere fact that 8,000 Hong Kong police officers were on the ground to make sure Zhang could neither see nor hear protestors’ genuine concerns about Hong Kong’s diminishing rights and freedoms is extremely telling.
The only people he actually met were the usual collection of pliant sycophants who would do anything to be in Beijing’s good books.
Rather than listen to concerns about the city’s worsening political discord, the head of China’s parliament fired a parting shot by warning Hong Kong not to seek secession in the name of localism or else it would rot.
Then, after criticizing the “very small minority of Hong Kong citizens” for seeking independence, Zhang singled out the judiciary and said it should implement the law seriously and justly without tolerating offenders.
One cannot help but think those remarks were a veiled attack against recent court rulings in favor of some of the activists being prosecuted over the pro-democracy Occupy movement almost two years ago.
The unprecedented security operation showcases anxiety over Hong Kong’s turbulent political undercurrent.
If there were valid reasons to be on high alert for terrorist attacks, why were rubbish bins not sealed or manholes not secured in all of the areas he visited, for instance?
In fact, the show of force displayed during Zhang’s trip has only increased people’s fears that Hong Kong’s civil liberties and diminishing autonomy are under further attack.
Despite Zhang’s assurances that Hong Kong will not lose its identity and will not be just another mainland city, it is already obvious that Beijing has tightened its grip on Hong Kong.
Leung Chun-ying and his administration have aided and accelerated this process and will continue to do so.
The new strategy in the Leung administration’s goal to tighten the noose around Hong Kong is to play politics by numbers and get thousands of cops on the streets to intimidate critics into silence.
Unfortunately, this will not be the last time we will see this tactic play out in the SAR.
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