Hong Kong has taken on a bunker atmosphere as authorities rolled out unprecedented security arrangements for the three-day visit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan for the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover.
Banquets and other events in honor of the supreme leader will be held with all the pomp and circumstance, but beneath the façade of jubilation, one can feel the tension as security experts make sure everything goes smoothly while ordinary people try to cope with the disruptions to their daily routines in the affected areas.
Such security measures may make some people wonder if there is some imminent terrorist threat, as the northern part of Wan Chai has been virtually cordoned off by no less than 200, two-meter-high water-filled barricades with at least one uniformed police constable on guard at every 20-meter interval, according to media reports.
No vent hole, fire hydrant or even traffic lamp has been left unchecked and all construction work in the area has been halted.
Government contractors have applied adhesive to the pavement to prevent protesters from pulling up tiles, as they did during the Mong Kok clashes last year. Frogmen from the Marine Police used underwater sonars for exhaustive check of the Victoria Harbor seabed.
The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, the main venue of many of the functions to be presided over by President Xi, will be off-limits to most people. The First Couple will also stay in the adjacent hotel complex.
Rumor has it that, for security considerations, they will stay at the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel rather than the luxurious Grand Hyatt, which used to receive heads of states and other dignitaries including Xi’s predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
The visit is a call-out to the entire police force, including all its elite squads. Among others, the paramilitary Special Duties Unit, Counter Terrorism Response Unit, VIP Protection Unit, Airport Security Unit, Escort Group, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau, Confined Space Search Team and High-Rise Search Team have been put on full alert, with a total of no less than 11,000 officers, more than a third of the total police force’s headcount, deployed for the three-day party.
Members of the Counter Terrorism Response Unit have been seen patrolling Wan Chai with heavy weaponry such as the German-made 9mm submachine gun Heckler & Koch MP5, widely used by SWAT units overseas, and Swiss-made rifle SIG Sauer SIG516.
Police sources say the CTRU members will carry out their duties with “full load”, meaning they will openly display their heavy firearms as a sort of deterrence to anyone thinking of doing mischief.
Many may find it baffling that while the city has been put under an intensive security blanket, officials contradict themselves by reiterating that the overall level of any terrorist threat remains “moderate” since there’s no intelligence that warrants higher vigilance. If so, then what’s the point of all the security fuss?
Perhaps local and mainland officials are bent on scoring some brownie points in front of Xi, never mind the nuisance caused to the rank-and-file.
Nelson Cheng, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Operations, snubbed reporters’ requests to elaborate on details of the police’s designated security zone at a press conference on Tuesday, stressing only that such a zone is “dynamic and changeable” in response to security needs and emergencies that may arise.
The government has also gazetted a no-fly zone covering most of Wan Chai, Admiralty, Central and other downtown areas on both shores of the harbor.
But you will be mistaken to assume that Hong Kong is solely responsible for the Chinese leader’s personal safety.
Rather, the role of the local police force is peripheral to that of the secret service agents and hunky bodyguards from the party’s mysterious Central Security Bureau who make up the core of Xi’s security detail and inner entourage. They are headed by a lieutenant general and under the direct command of a deputy minister of public security, both of whom are Xi’s trusted henchmen.
Snipers from the mainland will serve as lookouts and be stationed on the top of buildings along the path of Xi’s motorcade while plainclothes men monitor the crowd. Meanwhile, the local People’s Liberation Army garrison is also said to be combat-ready for any eventuality.
Across the border, Guangdong and Shenzhen state and public security departments as well as the PLA’s Southern Theater Command have also been mobilized for the Hong Kong visit and are on standby. Shenzhen has also announced a no-fly zone and all passengers heading for the city will be manually searched.
The First Couple has a packed itinerary. Here’s so far what we know about the events they will attend:
June 29, Thursday
After a brief welcome ceremony at the airport, they will head to the West Kowloon Cultural District in an apparent thumbs-up gesture for incoming Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who chaired the Cultural District Authority and spearheaded the creation of the controversial Hong Kong Palace Museum, a gift from Beijing.
It’s also believed that Xi may inspect the neighboring West Kowloon Terminus of the Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link to show Beijing’s all-out support for the project amid the controversy over the “co-location” of immigration and customs facilities.
Meanwhile, the First Lady is scheduled to attend a separate meet-and-greet at a Kowloon Tong public school.
In the evening, the First Couple will attend a family dinner hosted by Leung at the Government House.
June 30, Friday
Xi will in the morning review troops of the PLA Hong Kong Garrison in a military parade to be held at the Shek Kong Barracks in Yuen Long in his capacity as chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission. He will also meet a select group of local youngsters at a nearby community hall if time permits.
Xi will then head back to Tamar to meet pro-establishment politicians and business tycoons, where he is likely to extol them to lend full support to Lam and her new government.
In the evening, the First Couple will attend an official welcome banquet at Grand Hyatt hotel in Wan Chai and then proceed to the HKCEC for an extravaganza celebrating the handover anniversary.
July 1, Saturday
Xi will attend a flag-raising ceremony at the Golden Bauhinia Square and then swear in Lam and principal officials of the new government at the HKCEC.
Xi’s last stop in Hong Kong will be the local checkpoint of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, another mega cross-border project plagued with accidents, cost overruns and most recently, a massive scandal of faux concrete testing results.
Xi’s inspection of the bridge will be seen as an endorsement of the Bay Area initiative.
The First Couple will then board their plane and fly back home from the nearby airport.
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Police tap elite anti-terrorist squad, big guns for VIP visits