27 October 2016
Police Commissioner Stephen Lo has set a bad precedent by deploying as many as 8,000 police officers to protect Zhang Dejiang during the mainland official's recent Hong Kong trip. Photo: HKEJ
Police Commissioner Stephen Lo has set a bad precedent by deploying as many as 8,000 police officers to protect Zhang Dejiang during the mainland official's recent Hong Kong trip. Photo: HKEJ

Why Zhang’s HK trip will be remembered for all the wrong things

Zhang Dejiang’s recent trip to Hong Kong will perhaps be most remembered for the nuisance that the Chinese official and his entourage caused to the city’s residents.

Wherever he went, the National People’s Congress chief was surrounded by hundreds of police officers and G4 special agents, and all the places he visited were declared off-limits to both protesters and ordinary citizens.

Given that situation, I really wonder how the mainland official had hoped to see and listen to Hong Kong people as he claimed he was here to do.

As far as what he was trying to tell the locals, I bet no one was really interested at all, perhaps with the exception of Leung Chun-ying and his subordinates and some pro-establishment shoe-shiners.

Deploying 8,000 police officers to protect Zhang when there were no signs that Hong Kong was under any imminent security threat is absolutely mind-boggling. Even the US president or British Queen wouldn’t require security measures of such proportions during their foreign trips.

When Russian president Dimtry Medvedev visited Hong Kong in 2011, he was staying in the same hotel as Zhang, but the level of security measures put in place by the Hong Kong government to protect him at that time were far lower than the recent ones for Zhang.

Let’s not forget that Medvedev was the head of state of the world’s second largest nuclear power and he was under constant terrorist threat posed by Chechen separatists.

So are there actually any guidelines on what level of security measures and grade of hospitality should be adopted by the government when it comes to greeting foreign leaders and high-ranking mainland officials who are on a visit to our city?

Or is it entirely up to the discretion of the police and the Security Bureau to decide how many policemen should be deployed to protect a particular visiting VIP?

As a matter of fact, there are currently a set of detailed guidelines on that. Shortly after the then Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Hong Kong in 2012 had created a firestorm of controversy over excessive police presence and use of force against protesters, the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) conducted an inquiry into the matter.

Under the leadership of Jat Sew-tong, the former chairman of the IPCC, the inquiry examined all the evidence and followed all the facts wherever they led in investigation of the police’s alleged abuse of power.

In its final report the IPCC put forward some very constructive suggestions and laid down detailed criteria for deciding what level of security measures should be applied during the visit of foreign leaders or Beijing heads.

In the report, the IPCC said “the only concern of the police when it comes to protecting leaders from either foreign countries or the mainland should be their personal safety, rather than their face or dignity. Nor should strong police presence be used as a display of grandeur to impress or please the important visitors.”

Therefore, it stressed, the police should only deploy the minimum necessary number of personnel to protect the visiting figures unless there are clear signs suggesting imminent and major threat to their safety such as potential terrorist attacks.

Now, it appears the police didn’t follow the IPCC guidelines during Zhang’s visit last week, and wasted a huge amount of public resources in protecting him. So, why didn’t the council look into it and hold those who had failed to observe the guidelines accountable this time?

Sadly, rather than addressing public concern about the issue, the incumbent chairman of the IPCC, Larry Kwok Lam-kwong, quickly rallied to the defense of the police by arguing that the massive police deployment during Zhang’s visit was completely necessary and that the guidelines laid down by his predecessors five years ago were outdated.

Thanks to Kwok, who is just another spineless yes-man appointed to a crucial public body by Leung Chun-ying, the IPCC has been rendered a toothless tiger which can no longer provide oversight on the police’s conduct.

As a matter of fact, Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung has set a very bad precedent this time. If it took 8,000 police officers to protect Zhang, then does it mean it will take even a lot more people to ensure President Xi Jinping’s safety when he comes to the city to officiate at the inauguration ceremony of the next Hong Kong chief executive in July 2017?

Is it going to be a standard procedure to deploy thousands of policemen to protect our Beijing bosses every time they visit our city and then let our taxpayers foot the bill afterwards?

If Zhang’s visit was really intended to create a good impression on the people of Hong Kong and seek reconciliation, then it had certainly backfired.

It is because the 5-star security measures he enjoyed during his trip only highlights the fact that our top Beijing leaders won’t even condescend to reach out to the general Hong Kong public, let alone listen to their views.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 27.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former radio talk show host; Columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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